The heat wave began to break today and this created perfection in the Santa Barbara Channel. It was mill pond glassy smooth, except where the dolphins and/or sea lions got the surface roiled up. It was “short sleeve weather” with not much wave action until we were on the far western leg of our excursion. Sightings today were excellent. For me, the highlight were the sea lions in the kelp. Totals for the day included: a pair of friendly humpback whales, around 2,000 long-beaked common dolphins, at least 1,500 California sea lions, and one Mola mola.
The first group of dolphins that found us was completely preoccupied with mating. Males were under females everywhere and some feints at biting were seen here and there. Perhaps all this fantastic weather and oceanography got the dolphins more excited than usual.
A second and larger herd was encountered in The Lanes about 30-minutes later. A few calves were seen in this second group. Captain Dave had the Condor Express on a course to Santa Cruz Island at the time.
Our visit to the Painted Cave and Santa Cruz Island was spectacular. Extremely calm seas inside the mouth of the Cave allowed Captain Dave to hold us steady as we were in close proximity to the colorful walls.
Dave backed out of the Cave and along with “Ojos de águila” Auggie quickly located a massive congregation of California sea lions a mile or so off the Island sea cliffs. Today we found many hundreds of sea lions spread out over a very wide area. This region was all roiled up by the jumping and diving mammals. In the middle of all this activity, several dozen sea lions were seen relaxing in and around a detached, drifting giant kelp (Macrocystis) paddy. It was a magnificent sight to behold. Sea lions in the kelp! Wow.
A few miles later, in a northwesterly direction, a very friendly pair of humpback whales came up near the boat and continued to swim and dive all around us for a very nice visit. Alas, it was time to head home.
On our track home, about 5 miles off the beach, a mega pod of dolphins was observed. There were at least 1,000 dolphins in this region and a few “high flyers” made this an unexpected sighting. As the dolphins swam along they passed a small giant kelp paddy where a medium sized Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, was hiding.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.