03-02-2013: More Humpbacks Show Up, 1000+ Common Dolphins, Orcas and Grays, Northern Fur Seal

We started out to the Southwest as we headed to reports of humpbacks and gray whales. Within a few minutes of leaving the harbor we could immediately see the telltale splashing and water surface texture change of dolphins. We love dolphins. And we could tell this was a large group. Well over 1,000.

Long-beaked common dolphins

Long-beaked common dolphins cruising along side the boat. Photo: Sack 03-02-2013

As we got closer to them they changed course and headed toward us. They really seem to like riding along side, at the bow and in our wake. They leverage the energy of our boat moving through the water. Truly a spectacle to behold.

Looking down just few feet below the rail of the boat passengers were treated to closeup views of these frolicking, fast moving animals as they “porpoised” along next to the boat. Porpoising is when the animals jump out of the water at fast rate of speed and they move along. The do it to conserve energy. There is less friction as they move through the air than there is when they move the water.

So we spent about fifteen minutes cruising with the long-beaked common dolphins and then headed out in the direction of the northbound grays and feeding humpbacks. On the way it was nice to break things up a little bit as we came across a nursery pod of about 10 Risso’s dolphins. So that was cool.

Turns out the northbound grays were a lot closer as we soon came on to about six of them slowly making their North up to their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska. So we tracked these grays for about forty-five minutes.

That’s about as much as I can take with grays. They tend to be a bit on the boring side if you ask me. Most of the time they surface, make a few blows and if we’re lucky they show us their tail flukes. Very rarely they breach. Meaning they jump out of the water. We have seen it. Like maybe once or twice per year. We have also observed breeding behavior. But also very rarely.

Humpback Whale

Early humpback surfaces next to the boat. Photo: Sack 03-02-2013

So after about 45 minutes we headed out West to do some exploring where none of the other boats had been looking yet. We didn’t see much for about 20-minutes. Then we came on to a great look at a cruising black-footed albatross and flock of about 50 phalaropes. Both these bird species are always a welcome site. We often see them feeding along side humpbacks or blues. Next thing I saw was a couple of blows and a dark object repeatedly surfacing so we made our way in that direction.

As we got closer, there they were: Two humpbacks popped, blew a couple of times and threw up their massive tail flukes. There were two massive animals. Full size humpbacks. Probably 50’+ long. Just as that happened and the animals went under, I saw the unmistakable, massive dorsal fin of a male orca. This one was at least five-feet tall.

We got a couple of more looks at the humpbacks and then started making our way to where we spotted the orca. We go a couple of decent looks before the animal disappeared and we lost him just before spotting another female orca off in the distance.

By that time we were starting to run out of time so we began making our way along the Northwestern ledge of the Monterey Bay submarine canyon.

Northern Fur Seal

Northern Fur Seal “jughandling.” Photo: Sack 03-02-2013

When we were about 20-minutes outside the harbor when I noticed the unmistakable “jug-handling” of a Northern Fur seal. So that was cool. We only see a handful of these animals each year. They usually spend most of their lives far offshore.

What a great trip. Three species of whales, two species of dolphins, phalaropes, Black-footed albatross and a northren fur seal. Hopefully it will keep getting better and better as we get closer to April.

About Michael Sack

Boat Captain, Monterey Bay marine life naturalist and guide. Photographer and Videographer.
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