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A Grand Tour of Santa Barbara Channel

California sea lions relax in a drifting giant kelp paddy in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel.

A Grand Tour of Santa Barbara Channel

Captain Eric took us on a grand tour of the Santa Barbara Channel starting with the spot that’s been hot for the past 2 weeks.  That former hot spot produced only a handful of long beaked common dolphin mini-pods, most of which were zooming all around looking for anchovies.  From there we ran south toward the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island the new hot spot in the rumors of whales have been circulating.  More common dolphin pods were observed, and the pods tended to be larger.  Continuing along the southerly course heading we passed through innumerable floating aggregations of Velella velella, a 3-inch, round siphonophore colony with a blue tint over a transparent sail and disk. It goes by the common name of “purple sailor.”   All the boats and many beachgoers too from San Francisco to Monterey Bay have been seeing a windfall of these floating plankters.  They have finally ended up here as they ride south on the California Current.  Velella is a harmless colony unless you are a zooplankton, and it, in turn, is consumed by Mola mola or ocean sunfish.  We only see Velella population explosions every 8 or 10 years (pers obs). I could blather on about them, but this is supposed to be about whales and dolphins !

Getting back on the subject of marine mammals. we came up near the Island and took a right turn moving up west along the historically famous underwater ledge that has yielded fertile feeding this time of year in the past.   Not long after making the turn we encountered a large herd of at least 100 offshore bottlenose dolphins.   These large #dolphins were spread out over a wide area and there were many not particularly small calves in the pod.  There were many large oceanic fronts or “slicks” today, probably due to the very large Spring Tides.  The drifting giant kelp debris on these fronts produced many with California sea lions “hiding” in the sea weeds to escape large predatory sharks and killer whales.

The clock was ticking so we turned back on a northerly course for the mainland, but headed a bit to the west so we’d end up between More Mesa and Hope Ranch.   There were no whales in these waters today either, but near the kelp forest at Hope Ranch we ran into a dozen or of the coastal cousins of those OFFshore bottlenose…the INshore variety.

The day started out calm with a marine layer, and ended up calm with partly sunny and warm skies.  It was a very interesting and beautiful day on the Channel.

Don’t forget that Saturday’s whale watch is a special 8-hour trip sponsored by the American Cetacean Society.  Go here for ticket info:

You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express

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