2015 05-08 SB Coast
Captain Dave commanded two excursions into the coastal waters of Santa Barbara today, 9 am and 12 noon. Unlike yesterday, the wind had died down and the swells subsided. It was partly cloudy with little sunny patches, but cool out on the water. All this spelled excellent conditions for Spring whale watching. And Spring was very evident today as we saw mother cetaceans with calves of at least 3 of the 4 species we closely watched. Here’s the story:
Our course up the coastal strip did not last long as we found a quad pod of gray whales just past Santa Barbara Light. They were on course moving along at a pretty good clip, then stopped and moved into shallow water. It was a familiar behavior we’ve seen time and time again during this last phase of the gray whale migration: the leading pair heads for the beach led by the calf. Quickly the trailing pair follows and now all 4 whales are in the surf zone and inside the kelp forest. Bubble blasts, rolling around, tail flukes, spy hops, a bit of zooming here and there…all commonly observed during these “nursing stops” (as we like to call them with no other evidence except instinct). While our 4 were stopped and playing around, about 6 coastal bottlenose #dolphins moved through the area and interacted a bit with the #whales.
The whales resumed their northbound migration after about 20 minutes in the surf. We watched a bit longer and then pealed-off for deeper water, but not before seeing at least 5 additional bottlenose in the kelp near Hope Ranch that were swimming along with California sea lions. As we traveled away from the beach several flocks of migrating loons were observed, and soon we found ourselves in the middle of a large flock of very boisterous elegant terns that were crashing on anchovies. That is how we found the last cetacean species of the morning, long-beaked common dolphins. There were over 100 spread out feeding along with, you guessed it, more sea lions.
Our noon trip started off with a tight formation line of some 250 or more long-beaked common dolphins that deckhand (and 2nd Captain) Eric spotted about a mile offshore from Shoreline Park. This developed quickly into a full-fired “hot spot” with feeding dolphins, pelicans, elegant terns and several species of gulls. It seemed to me that the birds did most of the feeding as the dolphins were moving along as a single flank at a brisk pace. But that was not Eric’s only big binocular achievement of this trip. After 45 minutes with the common dolphins he was looking inshore for gray whales and located a mother humpback whale and her calf. We were still about a mile offshore from Shoreline Park. Immediately after Eric called out the humpback whale pair, the calf breached twice. Even though we were a half mile away, everyone on board saw this and jaws dropped accordingly. The rest of the trip we followed the humpbacks around. Although the little calf did not breach again, it did pull several other tricks such as arch its back, show its tail flukes on every dive (no matter how short or shallow), and rolled around upside down exposing the ventral grooves in its blubber a couple of times. This would end up being the third and final mother-calf cetacean pair we had the privilege of watching today….and the wind did not come up at all until we were safely back inside the harbor.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.
PS Our 4½-hour “Island Whale Watch” trips start Monday. Rumors abound about the “big guys” out there on the other side of the Santa Barbara Channel. We shall soon see.
PSS Photos from today’s trip won’t be up until at least Sunday…I shot too many!