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

11-14-2017: Killer Whales Just Outside The Harbor, Ten Plus Humpbacks Right Out Front

Killer whales just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Sack, 11-14-2017

Today we had a pod of five killer whales show up just outside the Moss Landing Harbor. We had eyes on them before we even left the harbor. That’s why Moss Landing is the best harbor in the Monterey Bay to leave from for whale watching. Both ledges of the deep Monterey Bay submarine canyon start right at the entrance to the Moss Landing Harbor.

Monterey Bay
This is a 3D bathymetric chart of the Monterey Bay. You can see how the Monterey Bay submarine canyon begins at the entrance to the Moss Landing Harbor. Killer whales often follow the edge of the canyon when they are travelling up and down the coast. So the ledges on both sides of the Monterey Bay submarine canyon lead the killer whales to an area just outside our harbor. That’s why Moss Landing is one of the best places in the world to view marine mammals.
Monterey Bay Killer Whale
Male killer whale on the prowl. Photo: Sack, 11-14-2017.

10-08-2017: More Lunge-feeding, Rough Conditions Make For Rough Going

Monterey Bay Lunge-feeding Humpback Whale
One of two humpbacks we were with today that were lunge-feeding.

More lunge-feeding, but rough conditions make the going tough. The day started out lumpy. We were pretty much rocking and rolling right out the gate. That was the word of the day. Not our normal Fall conditions. We usually don’t see such confused seas. We had some mixed swell with a solid unusual late-season south ground swell and a solid West swell. We had to cancel the afternoon trips.
Most of the humpbacks were further out today. And because of the conditions we had a hard time getting out to them. Luckily we came on to a couple regular lunge-feeders. They were coming up with nice lunges about every ten minutes. We even had a couple of massive vertical lunges where they exposed their pink ventral throat pleats. Hopefully conditions will improve today. Stay tuned.

10-07-2017: Humpbacks Still Feeding with Sea Lions, Single Male Orca Shows Up

Moss Loss Landing Orca
Single male orca. This animal was being very slippery. There were four boats in the area and we kept loosing it. At least we had a couple of decent looks.

The feeding humpbacks are still the main show in the Monterey Bay. Most of the best action has been on the South ledge of the canyon. So that’s where we’ve been focusing.

Monterey Bay Humpback Whale Tail flukes
Fluking Humpback Whales.
Monterey Bay Breaching Humpback Whale
This young humpback breached multiple times.

But we also came across two feeding humpbacks just off of Pajaro Dunes towards the end of the day. The afternoon/evening sea conditions whipped up pretty good by three or four o’clock. So it made for some challenging operations. Limited our ability to maneuver because of lumpy seas. But we did get some good looks at lunge-feeding humpbacks. So that was nice.

Moss Landing Feeding Humpback Whales
Humpback whales feeding with sea lions.

The humpbacks seem to be kicking it into overdrive on the feeding. Especially the ones that are heading south to their calving and breeding grounds off of Southern Mexico and Central America. They know they won’t be eating much for the next couple of months. So there doing there last feeding push before they start their journey in late November and early December.

Monterey Bay Humpback Whale Tail Fluke
Monterey Bay Humpback Whales show us their tail flukes.
Moss Landing California Brown Pelican
This is a close up of the California Brown Pelican.
Moss Landing California Brown Pelican
Moss Landing California Brown Pelican flys by us.
Moss Landing Sunset
The sunsets have been incredible out there lately.

09-27-2017: 15-20 Humpbacks Feeding With 300-400 Sea Lions, Perfect Fall Conditions

Monterey Bay Humpback Whales
Humpback whales in feeding frenzy. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com

Check out a video clip from today, 09-27-2017

The conditions continue to be stellar out there. Warm and glassy. It’s nice to only need to wear a T-shirt out there. Today we had a large aggregation of humpback whales feeding together with about 300-400 sea lions. Incredible encounter.

09-25-2017: Killer Whales Again, Humpback Whales, Risso’s Dolphin, Feeding Sea Otters and More

Monterey Bay Killer Whales
The same group of killer whales showed up again. But this time they had another male with them. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017

Today was incredible. Conditions were perfect all day long. We had a group of five killer whales right out the gate. So that was great. They were in hunting mode. So they were being pretty stealth and not together.

Monterey Bay Killer Whale
Male killer whale cruising for prey. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017

Staying under a long time and coming up in different areas. We had some great looks, but decided to head out and do some exploring after about an hour with them.

Monterey Bay Killer Whales
The Moss Landing Killer Whales on the prowl. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017

After about 15-minutes of running, I could see small splashes a mile or two to the west. I got some glasses on them and saw we had an active group of Risso’s dolphin. So that was cool. These animals were splashing around, breaching, surging. Nice encounter.

Monterey Bay Killer Whales
We were on these animals after about 15-minutes of running. Incredible marine conditions. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017

Then there were humpbacks scattered all around the area. Mostly to the North a couple of miles. We started to notice some nice feeding aggregations. Like groups of 4-6. Glassy calm conditions made of perfect marine life viewing. I could turn the engines off and just float there. It’s nice to just hear nothing but the birds, the sea lions and the whales.

Monterey Bay Risso's Dolphin
Risso’s Dolphin getting lively. Photo: Sack, www.sacntuarycruises.com 09-25-2017
Monterey Bay Risso's Dolphin
Breaching Risso’s dolphin. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017
Monterey Bay Humpack Whale
And then there’s always the reliable humpback whale. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25-2017
Monterey Bay Sea Nettle Jelly
The sea nettle Jelly. The favored prey of the Mola Mola and the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. Photo: Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-25

09-24-2017: Incredible Lunge-feeding Event for Afternoon Trip, Nice Conditions All Day Long, Beautiful Sunset

Lunge-feeding Humpback Whale
Two humpback whales lunge-feed together. Off Moss Landing. Photo: Sack, 09-24-2017 www.sanctuarycruises.com

Check some awesome video from today’s trip

Fall conditions are really setting in. We had incredible conditions all day long today. On the 02:00 pm trip we were lucky enough to get on a handful of humpbacks that were engaged in some serious surface feeding behavior.

Lunge-feeding Monterey Bay Whale
More lunge-feeding. These animals were doing this every 3-5 minutes for about an hour. Incredible encounter. Photo: Michael Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-24-2017

These things were coming up every 3-5 minutes with their mouths wide open. We call this vertical lunge-feeding. This is when these 45-foot long humpback whales chase schools of anchovies up out of the water with their gaping mouths wide open.

Monterey Bay Risso's Dolphins
Risso’s dolphins cruising. Photo: Michael Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com 09-24-2017

We also had great looks at Risso’s dolphins and common dolphins. We haven’t seen the common dolphins for weeks. So that was great to see them together with the Risso’s dolphins.

Monterey Bay Lunge-feeding Humpback Whale
Here they go again. Photo: Sack.

It’s quite a spectacle. They will usually expose their baleen, the roof of their mouth (palate) and their massive, pinkish throat pleats that are usually laden with barnacles. Their baleen is that finger nail and hair-like structure that hangs down from their upper jaw. They use it like a sieve to filter out fish and krill from the sea water when they lunge-feed.

Monterey Bay Humpback whales on the prowl
Monterey Bay Humpback whales on the prowl. Photo: Sack
Sunset Aboard The Sanctuary
We’ve been having some incredible sunsets in Moss Landing lately. I love the Fall here. Photo: Sack

09-23-2017: Same Killer Whales for Five Days in Row

Monterey Bay Killer Whales
More killer whales on the prowl. Photo: Sack 09-23-2017.

Check out a video clip from today

We’ve had an incredible run of killer whales for the last five days. They’ve mainly been hunting sea lions. Upon closer looks at photo’s we’ve been taking, we also see that they’ve taken at least on Pacific white-sided dolphin.

Moss Landing Orca
An orca breaches just outside of Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Welch

I’m sure they’re taking harbor seals and elephant seals when they find those too. Beautiful conditions for morning and 02:00 pm trips.

Moss Landing Humpback Whales

But by the 05:00 pm trip conditions deteriated. It got pretty ugly out there. But we did come across a couple of lunge-feeders on the way in just outside of the Moss Landing Harbormouth. So that was nice.

California Brown Pelican cruises.

09-20-2017: Humpback Whales and Lively Orcas, Nice Conditions

Moss Landing killer whales
A young killer whale breaches. Photo: Sack 09-20-2017.

We had reports early on of orcas just outside the harbor. So as soon as we left the harbor-mouth we made a course and headed to the orca action going on about ten-minutes out.

Moss Landing killer whales
More breaching. Photo: Sack

Turns out there were five of them picking off sea lions for most of the morning and into the early afternoon. And these were an active group. We had some really close swimbys.
Moss Landing Sea Lions
This is what it looks like when orcas attack a herd of sea lions from below. Photo: Sack

Including a couple of young ones breaching next to the boat. At one point two of the younger ones were doing double breaches together. A fantastic encounter.

They would approach a large raft of sea lions and cause a sea lion stampede pretty regularly.

Moss Landing Killer Whales

Moss Landing Sea Lion
Moss Landing Sea Lion

09-17-2017: Scattered Humpbacks, Sea Lions Feeding Together, Breaching Humpbacks and More

Monterey Bay Lungefeeding Humpback Whale
We’ve been having scattered humpbacks lately. But they’re putting a great show once we get to the right spot.

Monterey Bay Lungefeeding Humpback Whale
Random lunges. It was hard to predict. They were pretty much coming up one at a time. Photo: Sack

Early on we heard reports of feeding humpbacks just off the beach in Marina. But we wanted to at least get a couple of looks at a lone humpback feeding just outside of Moss Landing Harbor. We had a couple of ok looks, but after the first 10 minute dive cycle we decided to make a course for the 45 minute run to Marina.

Moss Landing Sea Otter
A mating pair of southern sea otters. Photo: Sack

It was a good call. We had a lot of feeding humpbacks, sea lions and birds. Also the occasional vertical surface lunge. I love turning the engines off and listening to all the mayhem. It’s quite a spectacle with all the birds going crazy, sea lions barking and whales blowing.

Monterey Bay Common Murre
A father common murre looks for it’s chick to feed it an anchovy. Everything seems to be feeding on the anchovies. Photo: Sack

So that’s what we had in the morning. It was a little lumpy to get down there for the after noon trip. Plus we had a handful of humpbacks right out front and for a 2-hour trip it makes more sense to hang with what we had. We also had a nice breacher for the evening trip. So that was great. This thing breached 3-4 times right in front of the boat. I love when that happens.

Monterey Bay Humpback Whale

09-12-2017: Fantastic Marine Conditions, Humpbacks, Killer Whales, Risso’s Dolphins, Pacific White-sided Dolphins and More

Monterey Bay Risso's Dolphins
Risso’s dolphin cruising.

Conditions were gorgeous for most of the trip. Forecast winds and storms were nowhere to be found in the morning, so we spent some time just cruising through scattered humpbacks feeding with sea lions and common murres just below the surface.

Monterey Bay Whale Another young chronic breacher. Photo: Sack, 09-05-2017

The we headed out further and encountered 100+ Risso’s dolphins, with a few pacific white-sided dolphins mixed in. Breaching and tail slapping from the Risso’s was accompanied by occasional bow-riding from the playful white-sided dolphins. So that was fun.

The most exciting part of our trip was just a bit farther west from the Risso’s, where we encountered a group of killer whales! One big male, a mother and calf, and another female were joined by three other killer whales over the course of an hour. Then the wind started picking up so we had to leave the killer whales and start heading back toward Moss Landing.

On the eight-mile ride back in we enjoyed sunshine, sea nettle jellies, and a few ocean sunfish! We even had a very quick glimpse of a mako shark’s dorsal fin.

A total of four cetacean species, jellies, interesting fish, lots of birds, a shark, otters, seals, and sea lions- what a day!

Check out the archives

08-31-2017: Fall Conditions Are Here and The Humpbacks Are Continue The Feeding Frenzy In Front of Moss Landing

Moss Landing Humpback Whale A massive humpback whale  lunge-feeds next to our boat. Photo: Sack, 08-29-2017

Incredible encounter on the afternoon trip a couple of days ago. It was hard to leave. These things were feasting on anchovies at the surface for over an hour. When we left they were still going strong.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch These things were feasting for well over an hour. I probably should have came back out after the trip. Photo: Sack

These things were feasting for well over an hour. I probably should have came back out after the trip. Photo: Sack

Monterey Bay Lunge-feeding Humpback Whales Double lunge-feed. Photo: Sack

I was bummed that my video camera malfunctioned so I didn’t get any great video. But I did manage to get some incredible stills. Luckily on the way in I figured out what was up with my video camera. So hopefully today we will get some more of this.

08-15-2017: Incredible Humpback Whale Spectacle Feeding With Sea Lions in Front of Moss Landing

Monterey Bay Humpback Whales This humpback kept spyhoping. This is when they pop their big head out of the water to take a look around. Photo: Sack

Moss Landing Humpback Whales Humpback whale in front the Moss Landing Marine Lab building just outside of Moss Landing Harbor. Photo; Sack

Moss Landing Mola Mola Lots of Mola Molas out in the Monterey Bay right now. Photo: Sack

Monterey Bay Mola Mola Mola Mola

Moss Landing continues to be the spot to be for whale watching. We’re on the action within ten minutes from leaving the harbor. Kind of funny the hundreds of people coming out on the boats from Monterey have to spend over an hour before they see anything. All the Monterey Bay whale watching boats end up right in front of our harbor in front of Moss Landing.

Monterey Bay Sea Lions We’ve been seeing hundreds of sea lions feeding right in the middle of the mighty humpback whales. Photo: Sack

Be whale wise and come out of Moss Landing. We’re on the action within minutes from leaving the harbor. Not to mention you won’t be elbow to elbow with 150 strangers per boat. We only take about 30 people per trip on the Sanctuary. It’s a much better experience.

08-09-2017: Humpback Whales Still Feeding in Large Numbers in Front of Moss Landing, Risso’s Dolphins Show up, Elephant Seals and More

Moss Landing Humpback Whales Humpback whales fluke up as they go down for a dive. Photo: Michael Sack, 08-09-2017

Check out this incredible friendly whale encounter we had a few days ago. Just amazing. Friendly humpback Whale Video

The amazing humpback whale action continues just outside the Moss Landing Harbor. This is the new normal for Moss Landing. It’s been really incredible. We’ve also has excellent marine conditions. Smooth and calm. Although today the conditions whipped up pretty bad in the afternoon but calmed as the sunset.

Monterey Bay Risso's Dolphins Risso’s dolphins show up a little further out. Photo: Michael Sack, 08-09-2017.

Speaking of sunsets, the sun was nearly red when it when down tonight. Pretty crazy colors. It looks like we’re starting to get into our fall cycle. This is by far the best time to come to the Monterey Bay area.

Moss Landing Sunset Sunset in Moss Landing. Photo: Michael Sack, 08-09-2017.

The weather can be fantastic. More sunshine, warm conditions and incredible sun rises and sunsets. Plus the whales seem to ramp up the feeding behavior before they head to Southern Mexico and Central America for the winter to breed and give birth. There is not a lot food for them down there, so they will not eat for 3-4 months during that time. And they know this. So they are doing their last feast for a few months.

Moss Landing Humpback Whales Humpback whales working together feeding. Photo: Michael Sack, 08-09-2017.