Wednesday, December 4, 2013

That's whale for YUM

For the past few months I have been seeing and hearing stories about all of the humpback in the Santa Barbara Channel. I spend a lot of time on the water in the channel, but not where the humpbacks have been in a feeding frenzy. I finally got my butt out on the Condor Express whale watch boat on a beautiful day. We got to see a few thousand common dolphins, and a handful of humpback and minke whales. Because of the amazing conditions and the high volume of foraging cetaceans, it was really hard to count what we were actually seeing. It was somewhere in the range of 3-6 humpbacks, 3-5 minkes, and about 2000 common dolphins.

I'm going to start this post with the dolphin photos. Common dolphins (Delphinus capensis, which is defined as the long-beaked common dolphin) may have a lame name, but don't let that fool you, they are very interesting! There are two species of common dolphins. Short and long beaked. The species are hard to tell apart, but the long-beaked are known more commonly close to shore and in warmer waters. I am a fan of any dolphin that likes to bow and wake ride along with the boat (which is my favorite, especially when I am driving). These dolphins were mostly focused on the large groups of anchovies- which you can see in some of the photos. They work cooperatively with the other dolphins in their pod to corral the fish into a tight group and then take turns swimming through and grabbing fish. While feeding, they are very vocal with clicks and chirps.

After the dolphin photos, the humpbacks begin. Humpback whales are generally in California in the summer. November 30 is a bit late for the season, but since there is such a big abundance of anchovies for them to eat, they are still hanging out in the channel. After they leave this area, they will be heading south to Mexico and farther to where they mate and give birth. The photos below are first of a single male and then a mom and calf both choosing to lunge feed. Lunge feeding is common when the food is right at the surface. The whale will lunge up and out of the water with its giant mouth open catching as many fish as it can and then once underwater again, uses its baleen to push out the excess water.

Long- beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis)

Long- beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis)

Long- beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis)

Long- beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis) surfing in the wake of our boat

Long- beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis)
Bait ball of anchovies (Engraulis mordax) looking for cover under our boat.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge feeding. Notice a few lucky anchovies that temporarily avoided the whale's mouth.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) blowing at the surface. I like this photo because of the gull that is getting blasted with water.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mom and calf. The mom's pectoral fin is the darker fin and the calf has the all white fin. You can also see a few sea lions and dolphins around the whales.
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mom and calf. This is the calf's all white fluke.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) fluke. (mom)

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) calf after lunge feeding.
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mom approaching the boat. The light green is the pectoral fins.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with a little bit of a rainbow from the whale's spout.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mom lunge feeding with a common dolphin (Delphinus capensis) in the background.

I usually save the best for last. Here it is, my favorite photo of the day. The mom and calf both lunging together with a really good view of anchovies spilling out of the mom's mouth.
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) mom and calf lunge feeding on anchovies.