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One of the top 10 whale watch trips of my life.

An extremely friendly humpback whale.

I have been writing some glowing reports over the past weeks about how great the sea conditions were, about how nice and sunny it has been, how the winds have been light and variable, and how the humpbacks and Minkes have been plentiful. Well all the above natural forces peaked today and I’ll swear in court that today was one of my top 10 whale watching experiences.

We departed Santa Barbara Harbor under clear blue skies with warm temperatures. Once away from shore we found mill pond glassy seas. Very quickly we were hopping from hot spot to hot spot, no more than a few miles from shore, and the water was crystal clear and blue in color. Although there were some nice anchovy schools in close to shore, and a few common dolphins were seen feeding upside down on these fish, the “real” show began just south of Platform Hogan. Here the anchovy schools were absolutely massive…millions and millions of tiny silvery fish flowing like a living river and then being forced to group up into a tight ball by the dolphins and sea lions. This huge river of silvery fish frequently attempted to seek refuge in the shade of the Condor Express, with little luck. It did give all whale watchers some spectacular close up looks at hungry common dolphins, sea lions and sea birds gobbling down anchovies. One image stands out in my mind’s eye of the river of anchovies fleeing cooperatively feeding dolphins, hitting the hull of the Condor Express and rolling off like a perfect living wave.

Soon the massive bait schools attracted 4 or more Minke Whales. Rather than some typical fleeting glimpses of Minke dorsal fins, today the Minkes were actively surface lunge feeding, and at one point did so pretty darned close to the Condor Express so you could look inside the mouth. Moreover, the Minke would then turn over so it was oriented normally, and dive in the clear water so close to us you could clearly see (and photograph !) the expanded ventral groove blubber and a bubble stream leaving the closed lips. I’ve seen tons of Minkes before, but nothing like this.

Not far south of these monster anchovy schools and feeding Minke whales, we found two groups of surface lunge feeding humpback whales. First a nice hungry pair, then a trio. Again the little silver fishes did not have much of a chance. One of the initial duo was “Rope Junior,” the newly discovered, smaller version of our big female humpback friend “Rope.” Both have similar entanglement scars. Later Rope Junior breached and got everybody’s heart thumping. In addition to the surface lunge feeding, and Junior breaching, we had a monstrous double breach later in the day. It came out of no where and (excuses, excuses) I did not capture it on disk. Several of the whale watchers had better luck paying attention and did get the double breach imaged. There was one nice episode of tail throwing, a lunge feeding event with two humpbacks upside down on the surface, pectoral wings akimbo, and several very close and friendly approaches.

At one point I joked with Captain Eric and galley person Cassidy that I needed ice for my camera trigger finger, the photography was so “National Geographic” today. In a few minutes Captain Eric was back with a little zip baggie full of ice…he is good captain and quite a prankster when his colleague Captain Dave is at the helm.

I’ll post up my photos to later in the week. Hope to see you on board soon.

Tell ’em Bob sent you. Bob Perry Condor Express

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