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Biomass Bonanza and Ship Strike Prevention

2015 05-15 SB Channel

Captain Dave ran one of those “see it all” classic whale watch excursions today with a new technological twist that saved whales. In short, we visited with 2 gray whales, 8+ humpback whales, and approximately 3,000 common dolphins and hundreds of California sea lions. And then the saving whales thing.   Read the details:

Heading out of the harbor and the sea lions on both bell buoys, we intended to go up near the Lighthouse and find gray whales we heard about. Instead, this plan was scrapped due to the presence of a mother gray whale and her calf passing the outer bell buoy right in our path. We watched for a while and noticed that mom had a huge white patch on both sides of her mid-dorsal region. The student marine biologists from Santa Barbara High nicknamed her “two spot.” Keep it simple!

Off we went toward the west end of Santa Cruz Island and across the Santa Barbara Channel which was very flat, no swells, and a light-to-moderate breeze. It was sunny and bright with all the storm clouds past us down to the southeast. The Condor Express was about ¾ths over to the island, and in the commercial shipping lanes, when the BBE-HP (Big Biomass Explosion-Hot Spot) was discovered. Here we found at least 8 adult humpback whales (perhaps more), along with at least 3,000 long-beaked common dolphins, hundreds of California sea lions, and a multitude of sea birds all following bait fish (probably anchovies) down beneath the surface. Among the sea birds were many thousands (maybe 5,000+) sooty shearwaters. They’ve arrived from New Zealand and their great figure-eight loop around the Pacific.

As previously mentioned, all this activity today was, unfortunately, taking place in the middle of the commercial shipping lanes that transit our Channel to provide a safe place for large container ships, tankers and bulk carriers to travel to and from LA-Long Beach harbor. Almost immediately Captain Dave saw a huge container vessel northbound and heading directly as us and, more importantly, the humpback whales. Dave quickly identified this cargo ship using his AIS (Automatic Identification System) and contacted the captain on the radio. The captain of the “NYK Triton” saw the Condor Express on his AIS too, and after Dave explained the abundance of whales and marine life located near us, the captain altered his course to bypass the hot spot. When the 304 meter long and 76,000 ton NYK Triton passed us by, the fearless common dolphins could be seen riding the massive bow wave. Wow. A single humpback surface near the port side of the ship, but not close enough for a collision. Meanwhile we found ourselves absolutely surrounded by cetaceans large and small, and noisy birds all around. It was hard to know which way to point your camera.

A few minutes later:   Act 2.   Dave saw another container ship, the “Ever Logic” about 8 miles away and, again, riding along in the lanes and on a collision course with the whales. This one was 335 meters long and 99,000 tons. Once again, the combination of AIS, VHF radio, along with courteous and caring big ship captains, prevented a second possible negative encounter. What a day.

After a long and magical time within the hot spot, it was time for the island tour portion of our trip. Dave took us along the northwestern sea cliffs of Santa Cruz Island and a small hauling spot for Pacific harbor seals. He also took the Condor Express deep into the mouth of the world famous Painted Cave. We were hoping last night’s rain would fuel the Cave waterfall, but no luck. The island was so dry it apparently soaked it all up with no runoff.

What a day! You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express Look for the photographs from today to be done sometime Sunday.

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