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Storm clouds, dolphins, whales and sea lions.

Rain was in the forecast but never put a damper on our excellent excursion today. It did start pouring about a half-hour after we returned to the SEA Landing in Santa Barbara Harbor.  The sky was filled with dramatic storm clouds as the approaching storm seemed to pause over Santa Rosa Island and, to a lesser extent, over Santa Cruz Island.  All this helped clear the air and the above-water visibility allowed all four Channel Islands to come into view.  Species for the day included 2 blue whales, 4 humpback whales, 800 long-beaked common dolphins, 500 short-beaked common dolphins, and California sea lions.

About 8 miles south of the harbor entrance, on a line to West Point, the first group of long-beaked common dolphins was spotted by our own “Ojos de águila,” deck hand Auggie.  The pod was about 300 strong and had loads of calves.  Almost an hour later a big spout and a smaller spout were found by the crew.  This turned out to be none other than “Stinky,” who regular readers of my reports will know is a juvenile with white speckles all over its dorsal surface and has a more-pungent-than-normal-for-a-humpback aroma.  The second whale was a large adult and both beasts went about their business of diving (for food?) and coming up for decent surface intervals.  Good looks were had by all.

A half-hour later a very active group of at least 500 short-beaked common dolphins found the Condor Express. There were countless full body, high-flying breaches all around including airborne antics by several very small calves.  This was more high jumping in one place than I personally have seen in a while.

At this point it should be noted that there is a particularly large number of phalaropes in the Channel right now. This included single birds, small groups and some flocks of 50 or more.  Perhaps it is spawning time for the northern anchovy whose buoyant eggs float near the surface as part of the neuston.  My friend and mentor Bill Hamner studied our local phalaropes and discovered that they peck at zooplankton near the surface and it was mostly anchovy eggs in their stomachs.

Captain Eric east along the majestic sea cliffs of Santa Cruz Island and talked abou the island a bit. Soon, however, a lot of sea birds and surface activity caught his attention and we moved over to the area and watched a couple hundred sea lions.  The mob was spread out and did not include as many individuals as we have been seeing lately.  The animals are always a barrel of fun to watch no matter how many there are in an aggregation, especially with the storm clouds up above.

About 20 minutes later we were on a slow course north to the harbor when two more large humpback whales came up near the boat. Fifteen minutes later Auggie did it again.  Through is trusty binoculars he located really tall spouts which belonged to a pair of giant blue whales.  These animals were diving together and surfacing together.  Their surface behaviors included their customary circling around.  One showed its massive tail fluke.  A bit later and closer to home another large pod of long-beaked common dolphins punctuated a rich day of marine mammal observations.

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

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