We’ve been seeing common dolphins regularly. Almost on every trip. But we never really know. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
The winter has been rough on the whale watching. We’ve been running trips mainly on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. And we have also been running our longer 4-hour+ trips. It’s pretty clear at this point that no humpbacks stuck around the Moss Landing area this winter. So I guess last year was a fluke. We had a couple humpbacks early in January, but after that we haven’t seen them.
Offshore orcas feed on fish just outside of Carmel Bay. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
So it’s back to the “gray whale grind” as I like to call it. This usually means heading out to where the “gray whale highway” is. Unfortunately that’s about 10-15 miles out. Sometimes we’ve been lucky and have had sightings just outside the harbor or some dolphins a couple of miles out. We’ve been doing pretty well with the dolphins, actually. Mainly long-beaked common dolphins. But we really never know what we’re going to see. We could have orcas show up anytime anywhere on The Bay. Speaking of orcas…
Today was incredible. It did take us 1.5 hours before we really saw much. So it was kind of a rough start. But once we were in the zone things got really interesting.
We rarely get to see this. That’s because this was a rare sightiing of “offshore” type orcas. This type of orca eats mailnly fish. They were behaving and feeding like common dolphins. Which of course they are technically are dolphins. But the “transient” orcas we normally see here in the Monterey Bay don’t eat fish. They eat mammals. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
About 500-700 common dolphins. Then another 200 further out high-tailing it toward us. We’re talking full on, high-speed, frantic porpoising. We’ve seen this before. Just before a bunch of orcas showed up and caused mayhem.
More orca watching. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
The next thing we knew there were about 30 orcas cruising all around the area. Turns out they were offshore type. So they were not after the dolphins. The “offshores” eat mainly pelagic fish like tuna and sharks.
There are three “eco-types” of orcas that we know of: The “Residents” who mainly live up in Puget Sound, Washington State and Alaska area. They mainly eat fish like salmon. Then there are the “Transients”. We normally see the transients here in the Monterey Bay. They are mammal eaters. We’ve seen them hunt and eat long-beaked common dolphins, harbor seals, elephant seals and sea lions. I’m pretty sure the dolphins don’t know the difference between “residents”, “transients” and “offshores.” They all pretty much look the same. The “offshores” are what we saw today. This is a very rare sighting for us. These animals are more typically found far offshore.
Orca feeds on fish. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
They were carrying on like a small pod of dolphins. They were circling around corralling and eating fish. It was such easy watching. They were just kept circling around, pretty much going under for only a minute or two at a time. We also had a nice swimby by a couple large males. So that was cool. You really get a sense for how large these animals are when they are only a few feet from you. Amazing.
We almost always see black-footed albatross when we see orca’s feeding. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
At any rate, we’ve been seeing excellent long-beaked common dolphins. So, that has been nice. Long-beaked commons, as we call them, love playing in our wake and riding alongside the boat. It is really neat to see. Especially in smooth, clear water on a nice sunny day. We have had those sprinkled in over the last couple of months. The occasional warm sunny day. Pretty far and few between.
This is one of the big males. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
January was very stormy. We had to cancel more than not. It’s mostly been gray whale watching. Maybe every other trip we’re getting glimpses of young, southbound gray whales cruising along the coast just outside the harbor.
On the way in we stumbled across about 10-15 Risso’s dolphins. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
We more often see this happening during the gray whale’s northbound migration. And more often than not it is a mother and calf. They will cruise by the harbor area just outside the surf line. We believe the mother bring their calves along the shore to avoid predation by orcas, aka killer whales.
We never know what we’re going to see out there. It was nice coming across these Risso’s on the way in. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2015.
If the weather cooperates, we’ll be running Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Once the humpbacks start showing, we’ll getting back to it and running more trips during the week. There’s still a lot to see out there when the weather cooperates.
About Michael Sack
Boat Captain, Monterey Bay marine life naturalist and guide. Photographer and Videographer.