Humpback + Giant Kelp = Fun (…and More)
2015 07-29 SB Channel East
After leaving Santa Barbara at 10am we stopped at 1045am about 10 miles south of the Harbor for a nice pod of 250 or so long-beaked common dolphins seen in cobalt blue, clear water. Seas were calm but there was a morning marine stratus layer that persisted until around 1130am. After a nice visit with the #dophins we continued east-southeast.
By 1110am we found a nice batch of cetaceans between Habitat and the Lanes. In this region we had great looks at 3 Minke whales, one of which was a very small juvenile. All sightings of these Minke’s were fairly near the Condor Express. In addition, a very large 50-foot+ humpback whale popped up. The humpback was pretty steady on an easterly migration until the following incident took place which really made our day.
Ahead of the migrating humpback whale was a medium-sized detached floating giant kelp paddy with a couple of gulls resting on it. Knowing humpbacks proclivity for interaction with kelp, we kept a keen eye on the line of this #whales footprints on the glassy surface. Sure enough, we projected the whale might pass close by the algae. Keeping our eyes, binoculars and telephoto lenses focused on the seaweed, our anticipation and planning soon paid off as this 50-ton beast went right into it and draped kelp stipes all over its back. We call this behavior “kelping.”
But wait, there is more. Not only did the beast roll around and really enjoy the algae but it wrapped it around its long pectoral fins and began to slap the water as you can see in my photograph above. Soon the tail flukes were engulfed too, and there were a few spy hops as well. The whale’s head was lifted out of the water, its long pectorals splayed out wide to the sides, and it slowly sank down into the giant kelp paddy backwards. The pectorals helped by sculling the water and forcing the whale to go in reverse. As this was going on, we noticed the whale was gyrating its tail in the salad fixings. I’m going to guess this seaweed must feel pretty darned good on the skin of a whale that has a few external parasites and no hands or fingers to scratch where it itches the most. We had no idea that the new twerking craze had finally hit the humpbacks in the Santa Barbara Channel.
As this whale finally got back on its eastern track, we moved ahead until 1205 pm when we found another large Minke whale. Further east we had another nice pod of 100 or more common dolphins. We finally ended up circumnavigating Platform Grace where we encountered 2 more humpback whales, a mother and her calf. At least three large mobs of California sea lions, each with 30 or 40 animals, also patrolled this area and were seen to dive and return to the surface together in synchrony. The cow-calf humpback pair proved to be an excellent combo, as they moved around and made several very close approaches to the boat as we were stopped, motionless in the water enjoying the show. On one particularly dramatic encounter the pair surfaced within a few feet of our bow and soaked everyone with spout spray.
Now that’s a full total whale watching package, eh?
You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express
PS Due to the volume of shots I took today it may be this weekend before they are all processed and posted to CondorExpressPhotos.com