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Three California sea lions in a giant kelp paddy

2015 09-25 SB Channel

Three California sea lions in a giant kelp paddy

Passengers on the Condor Express were greeted today by a Santa Barbara Channel that was fairly calm and glassy, no wind, very little swells from the southwest, and that now famous cobalt blue clear water. Oh, by the way, did I mention El Niño lately?   The NOAA buoy near us (Station 46053, East Santa Barbara Channel) was showing a 72°F surface water temperature. Three species I’ve been wanting to photograph that are associated with warm El Niño waters are pelagic red crabs, hammerhead sharks, and the olive Ridley sea turtle.

We had not even left the mouth of Santa Barbara Harbor when our friend “sharp-eyes Mark” spotted a small humpback whale (the 1 and only humpback we’d see today) not even ¼-mile off the breakwater, and in front of the anchored cruise ship.   We followed along behind this whale for quite a while but it had long down times and we were eager to move offshore and see what else Mother Nature might have in store for us. A half-hour later we watched 20 long-beaked common dolphins (at the end of the trip we tallied 800 of them), and about 10 minutes later, another 25 came over to the boat.

Near 11 am we had several nice and fairly close looks at the large of two Minke whales, and there were more dolphins in the area that looked like they were feeding on or near the surface. No surface seabird activity was seen anywhere we went today. Twenty minutes later we stopped on a large drifting giant kelp paddy that had a Pacific harbor seal resting amongst its fronds and stipes.   We got close looks in the bright sun and clear water…very nice indeed.

It was 1130 am exactly when Captain Eric asked me to start shooting (with my camera) a funny object that was floating on the glassy surface about 50 yards off our starboard bow. This object turned out to be the high point of today’s adventure (for me at least).   It was an olive Ridley sea turtle and it was very friendly.

Fifteen minutes later Eric spotted the first of two ocean sunfish (Mola mola) we’d watch today, and it was a beast.   It had to be at least 6 feet in diameter. After a few photographs clicked-off, it slowly descended into the depths where it’s species feeds on gelatinous zooplankton that live down in what scientists call the DSL (Deep and Scattering Layer). Here many animals hide in the semi-darkness and escape predators, and also reduce their metabolism in the cooler, deeper waters.

The rest of the trip we searched for more large cetaceans. We found more common dolphins, a mob of porpoising California sea lions, a solo rafting sea lion, three California sea lions in a giant kelp paddy, and a large sea lion eating some kind of flatfish and fighting to keep it away from the gulls. What a day !

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

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