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Morning humpbacks, afternoon breaching gray whale

2016 03-21 SB Channel

The Condor Express ran two excursions today, a 9am which was open to the public, and a 12 noon that was a private cruise ship charter.  Total sightings for the day included 4 humpback whales, 2 gray whales, 1 Minke whale, 25 Pacific white-sided dolphins, 10 long-beaked common dolphins, 1 open-ocean Pacific harbor seal, and scads of California sea lions.   Here is their story:

9 am The morning stratus deck had pulled out and left us with a thin alto cirrus layer and mostly sunny conditions.  There was a very light breeze, almost imperceptible, and some small-to-moderate chop from the far western Santa Barbara Channel.  Captain Dave headed southeast to a spot beyond Platform Hogan, the scene of yesterday’s massive multi-cetacean-species surface feeding event.  No such luck today.  Maybe the whales were all full, or maybe they wiped out that northern anchovy bait ball.

After passing by a fearless Pacific harbor seal juvenile that rested on the surface to watch the Condor Express pass by within 20 or 30 feet, we spotted spouts coming at us from the east.  This turned out to be two humpback whales that were fairly shy and had long down times.  A single Minke whale was on patrol in this same sector.  We followed the humpbacks for a while until we found another pair which were a bit more friendly and got great looks.

12 noon As we left Santa Barbara harbor conditions had changed.  The wind was starting to freshen up, and would continue to build throughout the afternoon.  It caused a few small whitecaps, but otherwise was no big deal.  Skies were picking up a thicker layer of clouds.   Just off Shoreline Park we found two groups of Pacific white-sided dolphins (aka, Lags), and they were pretty friendly so everyone was thrilled to see these stunning black and white cetaceans.

Around 1235 we got on 2 gray whales.  Although we followed them west along the coast for about a hour, they were “stealthy” yearling or juvenile gray whales that did not create large spouts.  The often snorkeled.   In fact we were going to break off from this pair a couple of times and go explore richer grounds, but then one of the whales would breach.  This happened 4 times, and one of the larger (grande finale ?) breaches included a nice high arch and copious water being ejected from the mouth.  Makes you wonder.  Was it feeding?  Was it gargling or cleaning its baleen?  Or…

The last major sighting was the smallest, but one of the most dramatic.  I had seen three dolphins on a high speed (stampede?) chase off in the distance to the south.  It was so far away I could not get decent photographs, and put the event out of my mind.  But as we were heading in that direction on our way back to the harbor, we later encountered 3 Lags that were chasing each other at high speeds both underwater and on the surface.  As they passed by the boat on several occasions, we quickly learned what this “chase” was all about.  There was a single-minded male attempting (and succeeding?) to mate with an adult female who led the trio all around the region at nuclear speeds.

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

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