Captain Mat kept the Condor Express on the north side of the Santa Barbara Channel today for some of the best whale watching in southern California. There was a light breeze, slight chop and overcast sky as we headed out today, but things quickly turned to zero wind, glassy seas and partly sunny. As has been the case for the past few weeks, there were spots of northern anchovies here and there creating a feeding frenzy with sea birds and dolphins and, if you are lucky, a humpback whale or two.
And today we were indeed lucky. Right off the bat we had two humpback whales that come together and traveled as a pair most of the day. Wouldn’t you know it, one of them was the big fat female with the entanglement scar that we call “Rope.” (Please don’t tell her I called her fat, but let’s just say she has magnificent girth). Rope toodled along with her side kick, moving from one anchovy patch to the next…probably feeding sub-surface. Now in addition to her circumferential rope scar, Rope has been known for another characteristic. Many times, when she is going to exhale and spout, she gurgles and makes bubbles under water, then sends up a geyser spurt that is not a steamy spout with spray but more like someone opened a fire hydrant aimed straight up. Like many good humpback whales Rope has also been known to vocalize with a “trumpet” sound when she gets in the mood. Perhaps she’s annoyed by dolphins and sea lions getting too close, or maybe we just don’t have any information to scientifically comment on this. Today Rope not only vocalized by trumpeting quite often, but five or six times at random intervals she made an enormously loud sound with bass tones. The harmonics and volume was enough to make my bones rattle…it was as if I was in front of one of those 1,000-foot long container ships passing close by in dense fog. None of us had ever heard a whale make this sound before. I wish Johnny K had been on board with his recording devices to capture the sound. Amazing!.
Rope did something else which I did capture with my camera today. She was on the surface alongside her companion and, several times in a row, lifted her head to get a full mouth of seawater, then remained with her head up as the water was ejected. We did not see any anchovies involved, but a close analysis of the images may provide further evidence. For now I call this behavior “baleen rinsing,” analogous to flossing your teeth.
We moved around a bit in the northern Channel and eventually tallied up a total of 4 humpback whales. There were common dolphins all day long. Some were feeding actively while others were chasing each other around playing or mating or something only dolphins know about. We estimated at least 3,500 of these agile little beasts today.
Two ocean sunfish (Mola mola) were seen and we stopped for a while to enjoy one of them. There was also the mandatory fleeting glipse of a Minke whale.
All in all it was a wonderful day in the Channel full of surprises.
I’ll post up the photos sometime tomorrow.
see you soon