Summary: 1 Humpback Whale 2 Minke Whales 500 Long beaked Common Dolphins 1,000 Short beaked Common Dolphins 150 California Sea Lions 2 Pacific Harbor Seals 3,500 Surf Scoters (close to Sta Cruz Island)
The mighty Condor Express ran towards the east Channel today looking for hot spots of Santa Barbara whale watching activity. Captain Dave Beezer broke his foot, was confined to the Galley, and the pressure was on Captain Mat Curto to once again use his keen eyesight to deliver a monumental day full of wildlife. After reaching the most recent whale grounds to the east, it was not long until Mat spotted a humpback whale spout several miles away. How does he do it? It was an adult male, not too large, with white scars in front of, and across the top of its dorsal fin. We’ve seen this male a lot lately and its white scars have led to deck hand Tasha calling it “Jack Frost.” Jack was all business today, intent on feeding, although several close approaches to the Condor Express added to the excitement on board. After observing Jack for quite a while, lo and behold there was a very active oceanic hot spot, an area of abundant bait fish all concentrated by the feeding activities of long beaked common dolphins below, and thousands of sea birds from above. We got great looks at the enormous school of bait (northern anchovies) as it tried to evade becoming lunch for hungry predators. At one point they all leaped out of the water in one slash, closely followed by attacking dolphins. Not too many minutes passed until Jack Frost also found this high seas banquet and got himself into the fray. It was a spectacular event proving the patchiness of food resources on the open ocean.
Next the Condor Express continued due south to San Pedro Point, the eastern most tip of Santa Cruz Island. The island is now turning bright green as a result of our recent rainfall. We ran west along the northern sea cliffs of the island, past Scorpion Rock and up to Potato Harbor. Along the way we saw our first large flocks of Surf Scoter (a duck-like sea bird found in shallow water), there were thousands of them on patrol along the island and they all took flight at once as the boat approached. The noise of thousands of wings flapping against the ocean surface as they took off was amazing. Quite a sight to see.
At this point in the adventure the Condor Express was turning back to the northwest, setting a course for home, when we encountered another large group of dolphins. These turned out to be short beaked common dolphins, and they were in tight formation….very animated. As if some chief dolphin flipped a switch, the entire herd jacked up to over drive and a high speed dolphin stampede took place. Who knows why? But off they went in the same direction for about 5 minutes, then returned to their normal traveling speed…leaping, twisting, breaching and, of course, riding the bow of the Condor Express.
It was a fantastic day full of wild life and great sea conditions. I’ll post the photographs up to our photo site later this week.
Bob Perry Condor Express