2016 05-17 SB Channel
It was a thick overcast marine layer today which produced a few isolated spots of filtered sunshine on the ocean surface at best. Although it was glassy near shore in the morning, once the Condor Express ran 8 or 10 miles south we hit the wind. Offshore had moderate winds and a moderate wind bump from much stronger activity to the far west end of the Santa Barbara Channel. It was definitely a fine day for wildlife encounters.
Our totals for the day included 2 gray whales, 6 humpback whales, 5 inshore bottlenose dolphins, 100 long-beaked common dolphins, 100 short-beaked common dolphins, 1 little Pacific harbor seal out off Shoreline Park, and a sea lion pup. The sightings were non-stop and here are the details:
Just after my quoting yesterday’s dismal gray whale census stats to Capt Eric and telling him the migration is really coming to an end finally, Auggie located a mother gray and her calf just outside the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance buoy. Tomorrow I’m going to tell Eric that sperm whales are extinct and see how that works out. (kidding) We followed the gray whales up to the old lighthouse and by then about 5 curious inshore bottlenose dolphins had joined them. As we slowly watched the show inshore, we passed a lone Pacific harbor seal with its head poking out of the kelp. Next we turned offshore.
About 15 minutes later and 5 miles off the beach, we were surrounded by at least 100 long-beaked common dolphins that were feeding and accompanied by circling and crashing brown pelicans. Sure enough, our first humpback whale popped up in this hot spot. We tracked along for a while then continued offshore.
Fifteen minutes later Eric almost jumped out of his skivvies when a chorus of passengers lead by the contralto section of one naturalist, started yelling “whale” and pointing behind the boat. It turned out to be two additional humpback whales, one large and one so small we speculated it might be a yearling. We continued south.
Fifteen minutes later, two more humpback whales heading west. Both were large animals and did make a moderately close pass by the Condor Express at one point so the selfies could be had by their fan club on the boat. Five more minutes produced one additional humpback…also heading west. Eric steered a course for the Lanes near the west end of Santa Cruz Island and then, once safely inside them, made a turn to the east and ran along the Ridge for a half-hour before changing course and heading back towards the harbor. On the north side of the Lanes and on the way home, there was a tight, fast-moving cluster of at least 100 short-beaked common dolphins. No leaps, no tail-walking, no antics. It was all business as they moved forward and picked off the stray northern anchovies. Again the brown pelicans were there to take advantage of the dolphins echo location and food-locating ability.
Just outside the harbor entrance, on the green buoy, we found a sea lion pup. It was alone on the buoy, and looked in good health. It is probably NOT a “newborn,” because it is the wrong color, is too big, and slightly out of season. Some experts think it was born last year when there was not enough food for mothers to remain healthy, generate ample milk, and nurse successfully. Hence the animal I photographed looks very young but is small due to lack of nutrition.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express