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Anchovy Masses

2016 06-29 SB Channel Anchovy Masses

The first leg of the voyage of the Condor Express and its daily travels around the beautiful Santa Barbara Channel features overcast stratus.  A little further out, and extending beyond The Lanes,  Captain Dave’s stress level rose a few notches as the aforementioned stratus hit the deck and we found ourselves looking for whales by sound and smell again.  Luckily Third Captain and deckhand, Tasha, kept Dave’s mood on a positive note by feeding him organic and antioxidant breakfast items and thoughts of whales yet to be seen.  Finally, only a couple of miles north of Santa Cruz Island,  the warmth of the sun was felt and the f-stops and color saturation of the photographs increased as the fog started to go away.  There were small dense patches of fog here and thereafter, but by then we were in the midst.   Here is the story:

After veering off one large Mola mola close to shore, successfully saving its big round life, Tasha spotted a second large sunfish that was not so close to the boat as to present a problem for itself.  Dave slowed down and we all had great looks at this beast of a fish in The Lanes before continuing south.

About 35 minutes later we were only a few miles north of Santa Cruz Island when, as you already know, the fog burned off and Tasha began calling out the numerous humpback whale spouts nearby on the edge of the stratus.  Soon we were in the midst of a huge oceanic hot spot based on a massive surface aggregation of northern anchovies.  Predatory birds were to be seen in masses over this spot, and at least 1,000 long-beaked common dolphins plus numerous California sea lions were all on the scene feeding.  We watched five adult and very voracious humpback whales (more in the distance all around) as the surface lunge-fed on the little silvery fishes.  Every lunge followed a similar pattern, first there would be a massive explosion of anchovies leaping out of the water in a tight ball.  Next one or more humpback whales would appear above the surface and engulf a huge swath of the bait ball biomass (anchovy masses).  Finally, the scavenging gulls, brown pelicans and sooty shearwaters would converge on the lunge water and gobble down the whale’s by-catch.

This went on for about a hour and a half until it was time to head back to the harbor.  It was one of the most exciting spectacles of nature one could hope to see this time of year in the Channel.  Fantastic!

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

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