2016 11-19 SB Channel
There was a slight breeze as we neared Santa Cruz Island, otherwise the ocean surface was smooth, no wind, sunny skies and warm, short-sleeve, weather. Dave, Auggie and Tasha located a fantastic array of marine mammal species today including: 1 blue whale, 4 humpback whales, 1,250 California sea lions and 1,000 short-beaked common dolphins.
The mammal observations got kicked off around 1120 am when we were 7 miles or so north of the island. A single, small juvenile humpback whale with white speckles all over its dorsal skin and a more intense odor than most humpbacks, came near the boat. We’ve been calling this whale “Stinky,” and have seen it a lot during the summer and fall seasons. We ended up staying with this animal for about 50 minutes as it repeatedly dove with short down times, showed its characteristic bright white pectoral fins, tail fluked a few times and spent almost all the time we were watching it kelping.
During the initial observation period a medium-large surface, detached, floating giant kelp paddy went by with several western gulls resting on top. We saw the whale make a u-turn and head for this kelp, and the little beast played in and around it for a long time. Maybe the kelp rubbing helped its speckled skin condition? Or maybe it was just having a fun time. There were multiple “attacks” on the vegetation, and each time the whale dove and dragged a section of the paddy down with it. Beneath the water, and above the surface, the whale was seen rolling around, entwining its body with the long stipes and fronds. It spy-hopped many times and rotated its elevated, spy-hopping body, still in the kelp. This was great for me as I was able to repeatedly photograph all around the entire animal. Very cooperative ! Pectoral fins and tail flukes were also seen, but the best were the heaping piles of kelp all over the rostrum and back of the little animal.
Eventually Stinky took a deep dive and we exited the area and ran west towards additional spouts. About a half-mile from Stinky there were 3 more humpback whales. While we watched them dive and surface a few times, Stinky re-located the Condor Express and proceeded to mug the boat two or three times. This is one of the most exciting things humpbacks do, in my opinion. Soon the little whale was off again and we ran south closer to the island to find dolphins and sea lions.
There was one large mega-pod of dolphins that stretched out across a wide swath of ocean. Numerous little calves were in the mix, and soon the pod intersected and interacted with one of a half-dozen mega-mobs of California sea lions. There was complete pandemonium as the two species dove and surface, appearing to feed on the same submerged food source, probably northern anchovies. Dave steered the boat carefully and we watched all these mammals for a nice length of time. It soon became time to head for home.
As we headed north there was one more special sighting waiting for us. A west-bound giant blue whale went through a complete breathing cycle, gave fantastic looks, and thrilled everyone on board before we had to get back on track.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store. Bob Perry Condor Express