03-25-2012: Breaching and Tail Lobbing Humpback Whales, Friendly Humpback Whales, Gray Whales and Orcas, Excellent Conditions

Humpback Breach off of Moss Landing

One of the friendly humpbacks breaches off our bow. Quite a shocker when this happens. We were about 8-9 miles out in front of Moss Landing. Photo: Sack, 03-25-2012

The bar is set very high for the now (after today) fully engaged Spring / Summer whale season. Holy mackerel! Today was phenomenal. I would have to say that our Spring / Summer whale watching season has switched into high gear after today.

Perfect weather conditions set the stage right out of the gate. Then it just got better and better. We started out finding a couple shy gray whales about an hour into the trip. We saw a few distant blows and that was about it. I quickly decided this was not a whale we wanted to watch. For one, we were out in the deep. The gray whales are more of a shallow water species. So when they’re in the deep they tend to be a bit on the elusive side. Especially when they’re alone. For good reason. The Monterey Bay is notorious for Orca attacks on gray whales and particularly gray whale calves. Orcas tend to ambush the grays from the deep. So when the grays are out there in 4,000 feet of water on the canyon edges, they’re pretty much just trying to get across without any problems from predation. Although, when they are in groups, they tend to stay up more frequently and can give us some decent views.

So we moved on because we had reports of a couple of different pods not far from our position. These gray whales were a lot more cooperative. We had some great looks at what appeared to be about four whales. We stayed with these animals as they made their way north for about an hour.

Then we got a report of some humpbacks. Also, not far from our position and back toward Moss Landing. So we made a course and headed to the newly arrived humpback whales. We soon realized they were feeding just below the surface because of the way they were diving. Not really full tail flukes. Just kind of going on their side. Diving at an angle or just barely going under and then giving us some great surface time. We also observed some “bubble net” feeding. This is where they will blow large bubbles to confuse schooling fish. When anchovies or sardines become startled or confused, they school up. That’s when one of the humpbacks will come up on them and the feast begins.

After a while, the animals seemed to become comfortable with us. Because the next thing we knew, all three of them were popping up right next to the boat! More than a few passengers even got blown by whale spouts. They were that close. The curious humpbacks went back and forth under the boat a couple of times and popped up very close each time.

Then, when we least expected it, one of the animals just fully launched out of the water! And this wasn’t a typical launch where they come partially out of the water and kind of fall over. This animal came completely out of the water. It was remarkable. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to register in your mind what your eyes just saw. Because it happens so fast. It just happens and then it’s over and the water is just blank like it was moments before. But in the split second that it happens, there’s this 45′ animal fully out of the water. Our boat is 43′ to give you some perspective. It’s hard to explain. But it is definitely the most spectacular thing we see out there. And we saw it happen twice today. And of course, there were also the albatross cruising around. We’ll often see the albatross around the humpbacks.

Orcas off of Moss Landing

A pod of female orcas on the move a few miles from Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Sack, 03-25-2012

Then we heard of some orcas a few miles outside of Moss Landing Harbor. That’s when my heart really started racing. I just love orcas. They are so interesting to watch. So we set a course for the Moss Landing Harbor full speed ahead. After about 20-minutes we spotted the unmistakable large dorsal fin of male orca. These fins can stick up 4′-6′ out of the water. It’s quite a sight to behold.

They must have already made a kill and fed. As they pretty well seemed to be moving out heading to the northwest at about 5-6 knots. That’s moving along pretty good. There were probably about eight total animals. I love ending the day with a nice pod of orcas.

And did I mention the weather? Just marvelous. Life is good. The weather is looking like it is going to be holding. So Monday’s trip should be terrific. We also have a very light load so come on down and join the party.

Monterey Bay Albatross

Black-footed albatross cruising around the general vicinity of the humpbacks we were with. Photo: Sack, 03-25-2012

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