2016 07-11 SB Channel
This has been one of top 10 summers for great whale sightings in the Santa Barbara Channel for all time, in my opinion, and today’s excursion just added support to that claim. Our trip totals: 10 humpback whales (more in the area), 1650 long-beaked common dolphins, 50 short-beaked common dolphins, and California sea lions galore. NOAA Weather had forecast gale winds and rough seas, but we found bright sunny skies with only light-to-moderate seas and zero wind until after noon and south of The Lanes. I know. NOAA is supposed to give mariners a heads-up worst-case scenario, and I appreciate that.
Our first cetaceans were long-beaked common dolphins (LBCD’s) when we were on the 50-fathom curve where all the big humpbacks were yesterday. As I was looking down into the water through my lens to photograph dolphins, the boat passed through a large bait ball on the surface full of northern anchovies. The agile and hungry dolphins were picking them off. The dolphins were fun, of course, but the big whales were somewhere else. This is where the experience of Captain Eric and the amazing visual powers of deck hand Auggie give the Condor Express an upper hand.
As Eric continued along his southwesterly course, with nice sea conditions, the crew found the first congregation of humpback whales about 4 miles north of The Lanes. There were five humpback whales in this zone and they were friendly. At one point they had us pinned down, with two on our port side and two on our starboard, as Captain Eric just sat there in neutral and enjoyed the experience like everyone else. After a while we were back on our southwesterly course heading trying to pick up the scent of more beasts.
Perhaps an hour went by before our next zone. Part of that time was watching a 318-meter long, 89,776 gross ton container cargo vessel Archimidis heading north in The Lanes at a whopping 20 knots and leaving a dirty brown smoke trail (and huge stern wake) in its path. I can’t imagine such a huge vessel, bound for Oakland, moving at such a high speed within what has been a hot whale zone for the past 6 or 7 weeks straight. I’m drinking my herbal tea and feeling better having mentioned it ! The next zone had 5 more humpback whales and a very large aggregation of LBCD’s. Two of the whales, traveling side by side, took an interest in the Condor, and rode along our port side with us for quite a while as we all moved east together. Also seen at this location was a very large bull California sea lion chasing around a much smaller female roiling up the water and causing some nice splashes.
Before turning and heading for home, Captain Eric moved us near a large oceanic hot spot full of many hundreds of feeding dolphins, shearwaters, gulls and brown pelicans. We hoped to see a lung-feeding whale or two, but time ran out and we were 28 miles from the Harbor. Speaking of the Harbor, just outside the entrance on our way in we slowed down for a small group of 50 or so short-beaked common dolphins feeding in unison on random and individual smelt.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express