“Big Bird,” the original Condor, ran two 2½ hour whale watch trips today departing Santa Barbara Harbor at 9a and 12 noon. As usual, we had absolutely no idea what adventures laid ahead of us. It was to be one of those “off the charts” days that whale watching professionals dream about.
Let’s start with the story of the 9am adventure. Captain Mike had a “bee in his bonnet” about checking out the hot spot zones we saw south of the offshore oil platforms earlier this week. We did not see anything for a while except for the gorgeous bright sun and calm, clear water. But we did SMELL a whale at one point and got excited. It turned out to be a Minke whale and we got only a fleeting glimpse as is so often the case.
Before long we spotted multiple spouts in the distance, in the Henry area. It would turn out to be a tightly packed trio of northbound gray whales that were oblivious to our stares and binoculars as it appeared they were consumed with what we shall call “intense socializing” because this is a family blog. All the while the trio passed between the rigs and slowly meandered north towards the coast. The socializing phase soon morphed into a travel, roll and breach phase. We saw at least two of the three breach, sometimes simultaneously, and it continued so long that we lost count of the number of airborne whales we saw. Bear in mind that all this took place in the warm morning sunlight with blue water that was still crystal clear. Next, after the breaching phase, the trio picked up the pace and the #whales were zooming to the west. The last phase we watched was when the three gray whales went into a logging phase. Our time with them ran out simultaneously with their energy level. This was an epic and magical encounter.
Not to be out-done, the 12 noon expedition started off slow with three different gray whale sightings that involved a single spout and it was over…one and done. We persevered and soon found two very nice northbound whales near Platform B and watched them swim and spout in the warm sunlight. After good long looks at this pair, we spotted a huge herd of long-beaked common dolphins in the distance. We went over to take a look and found at least 2,000 of them and had a spectacular encounter, once again due to the fantastic water clarity. After some quality time #dolphin watching, we went back on the hunt for whales. We ended the trip by finding another pair. This sighting started like the earlier one, two whales together steadily moving west and giving us great looks. But just about the time we had to consider returning to Santa Barbara Harbor, one of the pair breached about 10 times in a row. Holy smokes it was a good show. Seven gray whales and four of them very very good.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express
I’ll wade through the multitudes of photos from today and post the best online sometime this weekend.