02-09-2018: Humpback Whale Update, Mystery Whale, Gray Whales, Dolphins and More

Moss Landing Humpback Whale
This humpback whale has been feeding just outside of the Moss Landing harbor for about the last week or so. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve done a post. I must admit, I’ve been surfing almost every day since October. So sorry about that. I’ve pretty much been hitting the waves as soon as I get off the boat. Then I’m too tired because I surf until dark. The waves have been epic so far this year. But now we’re back at it full-speed ahead. I’ve been kind of waiting to see if these humpbacks that have been hanging around out in front of Moss Landing were going to stay for the Winter. Well, it looks like they aren’t going anywhere. Oh yeah.

Moss Landing Humpback Whale
Incoming humpback just outside the Moss Landing Harbor. It’s nice to be on a whale within a few minutes of leaving the harbor. Gives us some time to do some exploring. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

It’s been an incredible Winter so far. Overall conditions have been stellar since last Spring. So we’ve been loving it. And now we are certain that there are at least 10-15 humpback whales that will not be making their normal migration. The humpback whales we see here in the Monterey Bay are part of the Eastern Pacific population.

Long-beaked Common Dolphins
Finally the dolphins showed up. We haven’t seen the long-beaked common dolphins for months. today we had a nice pod of about 300 of them. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

Scientists believe there are about 2,000 humpback whales in this population. The majority of this population feeds here along the California coast in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Then in mid-December to early January, most of the population heads south to their calving and breeding grounds in Southern Mexico. A lot of the humpback whales we see here just outside of Moss Landing and in the Monterey Bay have also been seen down in Banderas Bay just south of Puerto Vallarta.

Long-beaked Common Dolphins
More dolphin fun. This really made the trip. These animals were riding our wake, riding along side of the boat, in front of the boat. Jumping out of the water as they went. It was fantastic. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

Other humpback whales in the Eastern Pacific population have been seen as far south as off the coast of Costa Rica. How do we know for sure? A noninvasive type of research called photo-ID research. This is where scientists and others, including us at the Sanctuary and other citizen scientists from around the world, submit photographs of the underside of the humpback whale tail-flukes to various databases maintained by whale researchers (we like www.happywhale.com).

Long-beaked Common Dolphin
Any day we have dolphins is a great day. We were with them for about 45 minutes. Whales around too. Almost like summer whale watching. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

Most humpback whales have a black and white pattern on the underside of their tail flukes. In addition, they can have unique notches and nicks on the trailing edge of their tail-flukes. Taken together, these physical characteristics can be as unique as a human finger print. So this allows scientists to compare or match these characteristics using photographs from all over the world with tail-fluke photo’s already on file. Of course, each photograph is tagged with time, date and location data.

California Sea Lion
This California sea lion kept leaping out of the water. When I see this I have to wonder if they are being chased by something (shark) or are they chasing something. This thing just kept leaping out of the water for about 10 minutes. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

For example, we know that there has never been a match from a tail-fluke photograph from a whale here along the California coast with a tail-fluke photo from a whale in Hawaii. But there have been matches between tail-flukes photographed in Hawaii and Alaska. So that is a different population of humpback whales. There are different humpback whale populations in all the worlds oceans.

Mola Mola
Greetings. The always strange looking Mola Mola. AKA, the giant ocean sunfish. This was a small one, maybe about 12″-15″ in diameter. Full-size mola molas can be eight to ten feet in diameter. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

The last couple of days have been incredible. We haven’t seen the long-beaked common dolphins for months. So it was great to see them a couple of days ago. Then we heard reports that they were still around. They were spotted off of Seaside to the south of us here is Moss Landing. So we’ll see what happens on our next trip. We’ve also been seeing a lot of Northern fulmars flying around. And we even had a sighting of a mystery whale that was either a very small minke whale or some type of beaked whale. Check out the photo below.

Mystery Whale
Mystery Whale. We’re not sure what type of whale this is. At first I thought it was a small minke. But now I’m not sure. It could be a beaked whale of some type. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com


Lots of fulmars around. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

And of course the cutest thing we see out here are the sea otters. And there have been a few mother and pup pairs around. So that even more cute. We been seeing some small mola molas on most trips also.

Gray Whale
Then on the way in we stumbled across this gray whale. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com
Fulmar in action. Photo: Sack, sanctuarycruises.com

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