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Gray Whales and Big El Niño Swell

2016 01-17 SB Channel

A long-period ground swell generated some medium-sized waves and backwash along the edge of the Breakwater as we departed Santa Barbara Harbor. Once a few hundred yards offshore we no longer felt the swell, but later in the trip it was spectacular to see the huge waves crashing up against the sea cliffs on the west end of Santa Cruz Island. Other than the swell, the ocean surface varied between being flat glassy smooth and no wind to a few spots with a light breeze. Skies were pretty much overcast and the predominate color of the day was silver.

After watching the local surfers at the Breakwater and the local sea lions on the harbor entrance buoy, it was only a few minutes until ojo de águila Auggie the deckhand spotted a wide area with scattered long-beaked common dolphins. There were about 100 commons in small groups here and there plus a special guest appearance of exactly two Pacific white-sided dolphins near the beach. From the presence of shearwaters, gulls, pelicans and cormorants, I guessed there were scattered small schools of anchovies in the zone.

Across the Santa Barbara Channel and near the northern mouth of the Santa Cruz Channel el águila Auggie and Captain Eric located numerous gray whales heading east (which is one way to get moving south to Mexico along our south-facing coastline). The Condor Express turned to follow along at a safe distance. This first encounter consisted of about 9 gray whales that came together to form a group of six and another group of 3, then quickly dispersed into singles and pairs. Great looks were had by all.   Several California sea lion pups also approached the Condor as we moved along parallel to Santa Cruz Island on our way to the famous Painted Cave.

The huge ground swell had the entire Cave entrance and cavity awash with white water as the waves ricocheted from one wall to the other and back into the cavern itself. Sorry folks, no penetrating the Cave today with the boat ! As we departed the Cave and headed north back to the Harbor, we found 2 more gray whales making our total for the day eleven.

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

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