2017 10-05 SB Channel
We are in the middle of a week in which stunning ocean conditions and bright sunny skies are forecast, and today did not disappoint. Today’s report for closely-watched marine mammals includes 9+ humpback whales and over 1500 long-beaked common dolphins. Captain Dave was at the helm and his deckhand, Tasha, was on the binoculars…what a team. The most difficult part of the trip was the need to re-apply sunscreen about half-way through. Amazing.
After the customary stop to see the California sea lions on the entrance buoy to Santa Barbara Harbor, we headed southwest. Around 1040am we were greeted by our first pod of dolphins which turned out to be a great encounter with a nursery pod in very clear blue water. As the day progressed and group after group of dolphins came to the boat, I wondered if there were any dolphins in the Santa Barbara Channel that had NOT visited the Condor Express this week.
Ten minutes later, another small group of a couple hundred dolphins found us and this time a single humpback whale was in the mix, having followed the little cetaceans. Dave slowed the boat so Tasha could put the gaff on a floating red Mylar balloon to help rid the environment of this noxious form of contamination. (For more on this, visit http://www.balloonsblow.org).
A bit after 11 am another batch of dolphins, this time surrounded by over 2000 black-vented shearwaters, were found feeding on a small bait ball of northern anchovies. A very large humpback whale soon came in and gobbled the whole ball down.
The most significant sighting and most time spent started at 1139am when a pair of humpback whales was located, later to be joined by a third whale. The pair was a mother humpback with her not-so-little calf. About a dozen sea lions were in the mix as were hundreds more shearwaters, terns, and gulls. What made this sighting so significant that we spent over an hour watching, was a series of massive anchovy schools which soon became the target of surface lunge-feeding by all three whales. The mother and calf lunged together several times in a coordinated manner. Although the bait did try to evade its predators by moving around, many of the lunges were close enough to actually look into the mouth, see the baleen, the pink soft palate, and the opening of the esophagus…all this as thousands of anchovies swam and jumped to try and escape.
By 100pm we had moved a few miles and were into The Lanes where three more whales were located along with a few hundred dolphins. On the way home, at 120pm, another whale and more dolphins were watched.
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Two humpback whales feeding on the surface. The whale on the left has closed its mouth and is ejecting water. The whale on the right has its mouth wide open and you are looking directly at the upper jaw, soft palate, and baleen with small bait fish stuck in the bristles. Everywhere black-vented shearwaters hope for a meal.
A tight crop of the previous photograph to study the soft palate and baleen bristles inside the gaping mouth of a humpback whale. Several individual tiny silver bait fish are caught in the baleen, and that doesn't show what's going on below the surface where thousands of fish are being trapped in the oral cavity as the lower jaw moves up to close the mouth.