04-15-2012: Three Separate Orca Sightings, One Whale Kill, Humpbacks Feeding En Masse, Mola Mola, Black-footed Albatross feeding on Whale Kill Leftovers

A young orca breaches with joy after a kill. Photo: Welch, 04-15-2012

Today was epic. Right up there with the best days I have ever had on The Bay. Truly one for the record books. It started out early for me. We had a college group for a private charter learning adventure depart at 5:30 A.M. We had early reports from a fishing associate of two humpbacks not far from Moss Landing. So we headed in that direction. But after we got on the scene we couldn’t find the whales. Plenty of bait and birds. But no whales. We searched around for about an hour with no luck. I started to get worried. Because we had to be back for a 10:30 A.M. whale trip. So the clock was ticking and the pressure was on.

I decided to give up on the reported humpbacks and head out to deeper water to see if I could find more humpbacks or even a passing gray whale or two. Then after about 20-minutes of running we spotted my favorite sight: An almost six-foot high dorsal fin of a male orca. Game on. That’s when my heart starts pumping and I get a bit of an adrenalin rush. It’s hard to explain. But it’s quite addictive. So we slowed down to access what we had. We soon saw another three females and calf.

This is what was left of the minke whale that this pod of orcas had their way with. This was likely a calf or very young minke. Note the black and white pectoral fin. That along with it's narrow "V" shaped snout is how we can identify the animal as a minke whale. Photo: Sack, 04-15-2012

Then another male and a couple of more females. We hit the orca jackpot. There were probably between nine and ten animals in total. Then we started seeing them breaching and tail slapping. This usually always means they’ve made a kill. After a while this large male brings up what was clearly a whale. It had the whale gripped just under it’s throat and propped the snout of the whale out of the water. Incredible. We believe it was Minke whale. Then the birds started showing up.

Mostly black-footed albatross. I shot some incredible video footage today. I haven’t had a chance to process it yet. But stay to tuned to see what is likely some of the best orca footage I’ve taken. Unfortunately, we had a 10:30 A.M. trip so we couldn’t stay with the animals and had to go in. It was so hard to leave this scene. I actually ended up a half hour late for that trip. Oops.

One of the many humpbacks feeding in the area we were at today. Photo: Sack, 04-15-2012

On the second trip we had at least 10 humpback whales surface feeding all around. The season is definitely on. I love it when you can just look all around and see spouts popping up. We can pick and choose which pod we want to hang with. Amazing.

After about an hour of this, we decided to do some exploring and see what else we could find. Within about an hour we came on to a nice pod of about 50 Risso’s dolphins. So that was nice to add some variety. After about 20-minutes we started making our way in. When we were within two miles of the harbor, we came upon another pod of orcas. This time they were feeding on what we believe was a sea lion.

So we stayed with these animals for about an hour before we figured we had better get everyone in because we had already been out for more than five hours. But I still hadn’t had a enough. Because the orcas were so close to the Moss Landing harbor, we decided to drop all the passengers off and come back out to do some more observing, filming and generally do what we like to do most. Watch and be with orcas.

So we finally got back on the scene by around 5:30 P.M. We got a few looks, but these animals were being very stealth. Just as I was about to drop a line and do some salmon fishing, we got another report of more orcas about a mile from our position. And they were with another kill. We’re not sure what they had, but it was quite large and didn’t have any skin or fur. So it was hard to tell. But the orcas were quite happy. They were tail slapping, spy hopping, jumping around and generally being very active.

So that was an excellent way to end the day. I love my life. I was out on the water watching amazing cetaceans and pelagic birds from 5:30 A.M. until we finally tied up the boat around 7:30 P.M. What a day. Stay tuned for some amazing video and a full gallery of the stills we shot. There are so many. It’s hard to get through them all. We shot a couple hundred stills and a lot of video and more preparation and likely more material from another trip on Monday. Stay tuned. The Monterey Bay is in full-on marine wild-life viewing mode. This is when The Bay really comes alive and we often see the most that she has to offer.

Don’t miss it. Book a trip soon and enjoy the wonders of one of the most productive marine wildlife environments in the world.

Our first mola mola sighting of the year. Photo: Sack, 04-15-2012

We saw this Mola Mola right out the gate. Probably within 15-minutes of the trip. These are very peculiar looking animals. They are also known as the giant ocean sunfish. Most are between four and six feet long. But have been known to exceed 14 feet. This one we came across today was probably about five feet long. They have few natural predators. But sea lions, orcas and sharks have been known to harass them and sometimes consume them. They mainly eat jellies and we generally see them in the late spring and summer months.

About Michael Sack

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