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Humpback whale mugs the boat…and more!

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2017 07-28 SB Channel-West

Yet another spectacular day in the western Santa Barbara Channel with blue water, calm seas and barely a breeze. There was a high stratus layer until just afternoon, and sunny skies thereafter. Sightings included: 8 humpback whales, 1 ocean sunfish (Mola mola), 1 northern elephant seal, and 800 long-beaked common dolphins.

I got lucky and spotted dolphins inside the East Beach anchorage and thought, at first, it was inshore bottlenose dolphins. Surprise, surprise, it turned out to be a splintered group of 50 common dolphins. Further surprises: this was a nursery pod (almost every adult had a tiny little calf alongside). Some of the calves were extremely small, perhaps newly born…I need to examine my photographs more closely next week. Captain Dave (and 2nd Captain Tasha) continued on a westerly heading.

Nearly an hour later, we were several miles south of El Capitan and a succession of larger pods of common dolphins approached the Condor Express. We soon spotted a very large ocean sunfish (Mola mola), and we ran alongside this big fish and had very nice looks. We continued west.

Only 10 minutes after the Mola mola sighting our first whale of the day was located. It was mixing with 100 or so dolphins and approximately 50 California sea lions. There were schools of northern anchovies around, and all the marine mammals were busy feeding. The whale was taking little bites, or “skimming,” anchovies from the surface, as opposed to lunge feeding. It repeated this behavior multiple times. This whale also came very close to the boat 2 or 3 times and, with the crystal clear “Santa Barbara cobalt” water, we could see the beast as it rose from the depths. Wow.

By this time we were close to Platform Hondo and still surrounded by hundreds of dolphins and sea lions. Spouts began to pop all around and we ended up closely watching 4 additional humpback whales in this location. This developed into a very nice hot spot as the animals were quickly joined by many species of seabirds. The hot spot gradually moved to the southeast. Along the way, a big head was observed poking up out of the water. It was a large northern elephant seal resting vertically on the surface. We had a nice period of great looks before the large pinniped slowly sank into the depths. Very cool!

As we headed back to Santa Barbara harbor, we slowed a bit to notice 3 more humpback whales and several hundred additional dolphins. This whole area is supporting a huge amount of biomass!

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

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