Surface lunge feeding humpback whales gorge themselves on anchovy schools today
An excellent “Indian Summer” whale watch adventure.
It was hard to travel very far on the Condor Express today without dozens of pesky common dolphins coming over and doing their tricks. After all, we were headed to the northeast Santa Barbara Channel to find the big whales, and these little guys are so adorable and they were particularly beautiful to watch in the crystal clear blue water we had today. But eventually we were able to get on the feeding grounds for some California whale watching and immediately found a mother humpback whale and her calf, the calf that has a split dorsal fin that Tasha, our crew member, calls “Nick.” These two did various things such as cruise around the area, then mom “logged,” or remained fairly motionless on the surface for quite a while resting. We did not know at the time that mom and calf would later join up with two more humpbacks and form a surface lunge feeding quartet.
After a good long look at mom and calf, we made a short hop northward to a big feeding frenzy hot spot area, and two more whales for a total of four humpbacks, were all making a fast track to this dense food location. Here we found our friend “Rope” with another big female whale. Joining the feast were lots of common dolphins, sea lions, and predatory seabirds such as cormorants, western gulls, Heermann’s gulls, brown pelicans and elegant terns.
So now not only did we have 4 humpback whales about to hit the anchovy schools at the hot spot, but as we motored in slowly, a “platoon” of Minke whales, perhaps six or more in a row, surfaced to take a single breath as they moved in to join the feeding. They moved in unison, one after the other like an army on the attack. Throughout our California whale watching day, we had Minke whale after Minke whale glide past us, and one of them actually came up close and “rode our bow” (not like a dolphin, but a few dozen yards ahead of the bow). Soon the anchovy hot spot erupted as two humpback whale surface lunged and gobbled up thousands of little fish. Later all four humpbacks did the same thing, lunging together in a spectacularly choreographed maneuver. Not a good day to be an anchovy. At times parts of the anchovy school tried to hide under the Condor Express but this did not fool the dolphins and sea lions.
While all this happened there were two more humpback whale spouts to the east of us…making a total of six humpback whales today. I cannot estimate the number of Minke whales but a very rough guess might be 20 or more.
As the day progressed, one spot would heat up and then another. Whales would move in and lunge, then move on to the next hot spot. In the early afternoon these humpback whales were probably feeling a bit frisky after their morning of gluttony, and one of them (Rope’s companion) breached a couple of times, and the second breach was near the boat with the whale heading right at us. The same whale rolled around and slapped its long wings on the water a bunch too…trying to be sure that the dedicated Indian Summer whale watchers got to see the full repertoire of humpback behavior.
Sunny, warm, clear skies, clear blue water, light winds, and spectacular nature watching today. I’ll post up the photos to our photo web site sometime early this week.
Wish you were here, Bob Perry Condor Express