So long gray whales, hello humpbacks.
It's that time of year when gray whales have passed Southern California and more sociable humpback whales teem in the nutrient-rich Santa Barbara Channel. And for whale watchers these past several days have been remarkable.
Photographer/naturalist Bernardo Alps reported after Sunday's excursion aboard the 75-foot Condor Express: "The Condor Express was mobbed by humpback whales. As if to show that they missed our visits to their feeding grounds, several humpbacks came right over to us as soon as we arrived and started surfacing all around the boat. They surfaced on the stern, at port and starboard but mainly in front of the bow, often so close that they must have been touching the hull. You had to be right up against the rail and look down to even see the whales.
"There was so much activity all around the boat that it was impossible not to miss some of it. I was looking at a pair of whales throwing their heads up high a few feet off the port bow when someone yelled "breach!" followed immediately by "double breach!!" I missed those but saw some of the other breaches. There were several dozen humpbacks stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. No single whales; all pairs and small groups, constantly separating and joining."
On Monday the Condor Express reported: "At one point we had a Humpie slap its pectoral fin on the water for many many minutes, whilst its smaller companion treated us to some breaching and chin slapping. A few tail-lobs were thown in just to be sure all the guests on the Condor Express were directing their attention at the cetaceans putting on the spectacular show."
Gray whales, although a reliable presence during peak periods of their annual winter-spring migration from the Arctic to and from Baja California's lagoons, are not boat friendly during their travels.
Humpback whales, which are known to be extremely boat friendly, have arrived in the channel to prey on shrimp-like krill and small fish. They're likely to stick around for a couple of months, perhaps longer.
Whale watchers can also expect more blue whales to begin arriving in the channel, and perhaps off Los Angeles and Orange County.
Blue whales are the largest creatures ever to have inhabited the planet, reaching lengths of up to 150 feet and weighing to 150 tons.
It's with these majestic creatures in mind that the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter has scheduled its annual Summertime Blues all-day whale-watch trip for June 30, aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara. The longer time on the water almost guarantees sightings of whales and other mammals. The trip is from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.. Cost is $109, or $99 for ACS members. However, those who sign up before June 5 will save $5. For details visit the website or call 424-266-0516.
The high-speed Condor Express is the only vessel to make daily forays to the Santa Barbara Channel's offshore feeding areas specifically in search of whales. It's 4.5-hour trips cost $105, or $55 for children.
-- Image is courtesy of Bernardo Alps