Month: March 2012

03-27-2012: More Rough Conditions, but at least we got into the Zone

Today wasn’t a whole lot better than yesterday. However, we were able to get a lot further. We actually got out to Point Pinos and were with at least three or four gray whales. But the conditions were so difficult and windy with significant swell that we didn’t get any good looks. Whale checks all the way around today. At least we got to see some pretty close up spouts. But that’s not what we take people out to see. With wind and swell, it made for difficult viewing. These animals didn’t even give any tail fluke views.

And because of the increasing south winds and swell, we couldn’t follow them very far north for concern that southwest swells and south winds would make for a very rough ride home. It would mean that we would be taking significant wind and swell from our starboard side.

Safety is always the number one priority out there. So I decided to head in while we still had a good line on Moss Landing.

Wednesday is actually looking pretty good. So we’re going to keep an eye on things and make the call in the morning.

03-26-2012: Rough Conditions Got in the Way today. But we tried.

It got a little rough out there today. It stared out very nice. The going was smooth and the living easy. But after about an hour that all changed. Suddenly we bouncing up and down and the South winds made the situation pretty rough. Our only hope was to head in and run along the south ledge of the Monterey Submarine Canyon in hopes of finding a gray whale calf and cow pair or wayward humpback in search of food.

Neither would be the case today. Sometimes it just happens that way. As I’ve said before: What a difference a day makes.

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

03-22-2012: Rough Conditions Made the Going Tough, But we had Nice Looks at Common Dolphins, Another Steller Sea Lion Shows up at Moss Landing Sea Lion Dock

Common dolphins cruise next to the boat and check us out. Photo: Sack, 03-22-2012

The day started out very nice. We had very calm seas, smooth water and clean running. But after about an hour of heading to the northwest toward the Soquel Canyon, the wind turned on us and whipped up the ocean to make for a rough ride. This limited the direction we could go to one of two directions: Either straight out bouncing up and down and barely able to break more than three-knots of headway; or heading straight in with nice running and a comfortable smooth ride. Heading into weather made it tough to get any further out to where we knew the gray whales were passing through.

The good news is that I somehow spotted a nice pod of Long-beaked Common Dolphins. It was a challenge because of all the white-caps everywhere. It’s hard to spot marine wildlife when there are white-caps everywhere. During calm conditions that’s usually how we find animals: By spotting “white-caps” or splashes that break the pattern of the smooth water. When there are thousands of white-caps everywhere, you can imagine the difficulty that creates for finding marine wildlife.

At any rate, we had a few nice looks at about 50-100 common dolphins. It was kind of hard to tell how many there were because I had to focus more on keeping the boat positioned so that we didn’t get too slammed around. It was a challenge. After about an hour of inching out trying to get out further, I finally called it and we turned around. I was hoping we would find something on the way in.

The ocean is funny that way. Heading out into weather it’s like all hell is breaking loose. But when you turn around and start running with the wind and waves, it becomes very nice. Since your going about the same speed as the wind and in the same direction, it almost seems like there’s no wind. It’s a lot of fun for me when I get to do a little surfing on what feels like a 43′ surfboard with a motor. But I’d still rather be hanging out with whales.

We’re still checking on the conditions for Friday’s trip. Give us a call if you want to go out on Friday and we’ll let you know how it’s looking. But so far Friday is looking good.

Steller Sea Lion lounges on the Moss Landing "sea lion dock" just below the Sea Harvest restaurant. It's surprising that this big bull didn't seem to mind a California Sea Lion youngster posting up on his back. Photo: Sack, 03-22-2012

At least on the way in we got some nice looks at a Steller Sea Lion that was hanging out on the “Sea Lion Dock” in Moss Landing. So that was cool. These animals are three times larger than our California Sea Lions that are normally on the dock. It was pretty funny to see this young sea lion laying on top of this giant Steller. He didn’t seem to mind letting the little one use him as a bed.

03-21-2012: Humpbacks are Here! Large Numbers of Gray Whales All Around, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Reports of Orcas and Excellent Weather Conditions

A humpback yearling shows us it's tail fluke before a dive with it's mother close behind. Photo: Sack, 03-21-2012

It looks like the Monterey Bay Humpback season is here. Today was the first day we really had lingering humpbacks that were coming up to the boat. And we could tell they were feeding close to the surface. Not quite full lunge feeding. But we did see a couple of surface lunges. They were giving us great surface times and nice tail flukes. We were with between four and eight today and we could see more around us. This is excellent news. The Krill was very thick on our sonar. The blue whales can’t be far behind.

This is very exciting. Today was the kickoff for the humpback season and there seems to be plenty of food for them. So we expect more to start showing up.

And then we had a small pod of Pacific White-sided dolphins buzz the boat and kind of cruise along with the humpbacks. What a remarkable day out there today.

And we haven’t seen this many gray whales in one trip. They were plentiful. We were with a train of about 5-6 on the way in that were also giving us great surface times and the occasional tail fluke.

And then there were brief reports of orcas. But no one really got any good looks. They seemed to be on the prowl and everyone was too distracted by the humpbacks to keep track of the orcas. The first real humpback encounter of the year is always an exciting experience. Sure, we’ve seen one or two over the last two weeks. But they’ve been pretty elusive and not really given us any good surface time. But today was a classic summer-time humpback encounter. Lingering humpbacks feeding on Krill.

Tomorrow will be interesting to see if the humpbacks are still in the area. Hopefully we find the orcas and they’ll be up to their old tricks.

We’re still waiting on gray whale cows and calves. This should also start to bring in more orcas. Whale watching on the Monterey Bay is starting to kick into high gear. Keep an eye on the weather or give us call if you want to know more.

03-19-2012: Near Perfect Conditions, North Bound Gray Whales Crossing in Full-Force, Risso’s Dolphins and more reports of Humpbacks

What a difference a day makes. Sunday was about as bad as the marine conditions get. Of course, we had to cancel. But it was an experience just watching. Waves breaking across the harbor mouth and huge white caps as far as the eye could see. Not to mention big stormy surf off the North Jetty.

But today was just a delight. Tee-shirt conditions. It’s really hard to imagine. It didn’t seem like the same ocean.

Glassy, minimal swell with warm sun. We decided we would head over toward the Soquel Canyon to the northwest instead out toward Point Pinos to the southwest where we’ve been going to the gray whales. We’ve got humpback-itus. So that’s what we were hoping for. No one’s really been looking in that area for the last couple of months. With conditions the way they were, it was a good to day to explore.

After about 45-minutes of running I spotted our first blow. It was still about a mile or so off. So we just kind of eased up hoping for a humpback showing. After a couple of surfacing, we still were not sure what species we had. But as we got closer, we started to see more blows. And soon it was clear we were with six large gray whales. They gave us some great looks. They stayed up nicely, blowing a three or four times each surfacing, showing a large portion of their backs and then fluking before every other dive or so.

The weather is what made today such a treat. It’s nice to be able to relax out there without having to bundle up in a jacket.

On the way in we came across a nice pod of about 15 Risso’s dolphins. So that’s always nice to have a little variety. We also heard reports of more humpback whales and killer whales on Saturday.

Our next trip is Thursday 03-22-2012. The weather conditions are looking good.

03-16-2012: More Rough Weather, Today’s Trip Cancelled, Orcas Spotted off Moss Landing

Another rough day of winter weather. We cancelled today’s trip and did some maintenance on the boat. I also signed off on the final wrap graphics for the new Sanctuary Cruises mobile. It’s truly a piece of art.

Then I was on the beach just off the Moss Landing south jetty just checking on what I may see out there. And there they were: The unmistakable dorsal fins of four orcas about 3/4 of a mile off the beach. They appeared to be two younger males and two large females. So I called Dorris in Santa Cruz and told her to bring the camera and we’ll see if we could get some ID photos for the Orca Network and some video footage. But it took her almost an hour to get to Moss.

So by the time we got out there in the boat we couldn’t find them. Oh well, we tried. That just goes to show you, we never know what we’re going to see out there. At least we know the orcas are paying us visits. Let’s hope they show up when the weather calms down.

It looks like this weekend is also going to be a rough weather weekend and we are likely cancelling all trips for the weekend. We’ll try again next week or whenever the weather clears.

03-15-2013: More Stormy Weather, Mixed Short Period Swells and Cancelled Trips Yesterday and Today

Well, it looks like winter is finally here. We’ve really been needing this rain, so I’m not complaining. But if the wind and swell were manageable we would still go out. At least this means we might finally have some wild mushrooms popping up in our favorite patch. We’ll give it a few days and go for a hike to check.

We just love those Santa Cruz Mountain chantrelles. Especially sauteed in garlic, onion, shallots, butter and generously spread over the top of a nice salmon steak. I’m thinking that’s what for dinner next week. The rain does have it’s benefits.

03-11-2012: The first Humpback of the Year, more Gray Whales, Glassy Conditions

We saw our first humpback of the year. So that’s good news. We’ll keep an eye on things and hope that more start to show up. We also had a glimpse of a stealthy gray whale and heard reports of plenty of others coming through.

The humpback we were with was also very stealthy. We had a hard time keeping track of it. But we did get a couple of decent looks at it’s tail fluke. It seemed to be a younger animal. Definitely not a full-sized humpback. We covered a lot of water today. We were clearly in the gray whale zone in between pulses. Because we heard reports of at least ten other grays throughout The Bay and we only saw one.

We could have gone to what was reported to be a handful of evasive grays early in the trip. But we decided to go check out a report of the first humpback of the year a few miles south. We ended up off of Cypress Point hoping that this humpback put on a show for us. But instead, it didn’t want anything to do with us.

So after about an hour we just moved on. We headed into deeper water hoping to find something else. But it was pretty quiet out there. Although we did have nice boat ride in. The conditions were very calm and most of us just enjoyed the ride and being out on the water.

It looks like to coming week is going to be a bit stormy. So we will likely be cancelling most of our weekday trips in the coming days. Give us a call and we’ll give you an update. We’re hoping for clearing conditions for Friday.

03-10-2012: Northbound Gray Whales Continue, Risso’s Dolphins, Close in Nursery Pod of Common Dolphins, Still Waiting on Gray Whale Mothers and Calves

A Risso's dolphin just before a dive off of Point Pinos. Photo: Sack 03-10-2012

The marine conditions started out great. Very smooth ocean surface, no wind, warm conditions. But as we got closer the to “gray whale zone” about ten miles southwest of Moss Landing, things started to get a bit rocky. White caps started to appear and made the going a bit rough. But not before we got some decent looks at three gray whales heading north.

After about a half hour of tracking three grays, a passenger spotted a pod of about 20 Risso’s dolphins. So we hung with them for about 45 minutes until the winds started to pick up more and white caps appeared all around. We didn’t want to get caught too far south if the northwest winds really picked up. So we decided to head back toward the middle of The Bay so that we would have a straight run in if the weather picked up too much.

A mother common dolphin cruises along less than a mile outside of Moss Landing. Photo: Sack 03-10-2012

We were hoping to find orcas or more dolphins. And just as we were within about a mile of the Moss Landing Harbor entrance, we spotted a pretty rare nursery pod of common dolphins. This was a very small pod. Maybe 15-20 animals total.

A very small common dolphin surfaces with the small nursery pod. Photo: Sack 03-10-2012

We believe they mainly consisted of mothers and calves. There were a couple very young calves. Maybe a month old at most. The small ones were only about 2′-3′ long. Cute little buggers. It was pretty neat so see such a small dolphin cruising along with it’s mother.

03-09-2012: Massive Steller Sea Lion again today at sea lion dock, Large Male Orca Ten Minutes Outside of Moss Landing Harbor and Three Cooperative Gray Whales

Steller Sea Lion in Moss Landing
The same Steller Sea Lion we saw last Sunday in the same exact spot. Photo: Sack 03-09-2012

Another excellent day of marine wildlife viewing on the Monterey Bay. Just awesome. I love when we find cool animals early in a trip. It started out before we even got out of the harbor. We noticed what appeared to be the same Steller Sea Lion that we say last Sunday in the same position he was on the “sea lion” dock below the Sea Harvest restaurant near the Highway One bridge.

We believe this animal weighs about 2,000 pounds and probably about 9′ long. We stopped by to check him out and take some photographs. It’s amazing how much larger this animal is than the California Sea Lions around him.

Orca off Moss Landing on the hunt.
Orca off Moss Landing on the hunt. Photo: Sack 03-09-2012

Then, 10-minutes into the trip a passenger came into the wheel house and yelled and pointed that they just saw an orca. And sure enough, a few seconds later a large male orca dorsal popped just off our starboard bow. Very exciting. These are among my favorite animals to watch out there. This big guy couldn’t seem to find any mammals in the area to eat. He kept heading out and then back toward shore. And then he finally settled for a cormorant bird that he gulped down in one bite.

The coolest thing we saw the animal do was when he did a massive “spy hop.” Spy hopping is when they position themselves vertically and pop their head and body up out of the water. And this animal did a huge spy hop. This was very rare behavior for such a large animal. We often see younger orcas do this and usually just with their head and maybe a 3-4 out of the water. But this animal came out at least 6-8′ out of the water. It was almost like a breach. But it didn’t come completely out and land on it’s side. It came straight up and just kind of came straight down.

I’m so disappointed that I wasn’t able to get a photograph of this. My timing was off. I just couldn’t get a shot off in time. All I got was the splash after it went under. Oh well. It’s real challenge getting good shots out there.

After almost two hours of hanging out with this magnificent animal, we decided that we wanted to head out and find some gray whales. So we headed out to the southwest toward where we had heard the last reports of some grays.

California Gray Whale
California gray whale cruises off Point Pinos on it's way to the Bering Sea. Photo: Sack 03-09-2012

The report was over an hour old so we weren’t sure it would be such a good idea to go all the way. Seeing as these animals are moving between three and five knots toward the north west. So after getting almost to the area, we decided to head south and find some other grays out off of Point Pinos. That’s where we’ve been finding most of the gray whales these days.

And sure enough, as soon as we got into the zone, there they were. So we ended up spending another hour and a half getting excellent looks at three very cooperative gray whales. Nice surface time, good blows and a couple of good tail flukes.

03-07-2012: Close up looks at Gray Whales, 1,000 Plus Common Dolphins, Rare Northern Fur Seal Sighting and a Handful of Black-footed Albatross, Remarkable Day

Common Dolphin
A long-beaked common dolphin speeds by and checks us out. They will often leverage the energy of our boat wake to gain speed and cruise. Photo: Sack 03-07-2012

Wow! Today was a welcome change. I was beginning to loose faith in the diversity of species that Monterey Bay is so well known for. Don’t get me wrong. Gray whales are great and all. I mean, there aren’t too many animals in this world that make a twelve thousand mile round-trip migration just to breed and give birth to their young. And they don’t eat much, if anything, for the whole trip. Truly remarkable.

And who am I to complain. I mean, there’s 20,000 some-odd of these animals that come across The Monterey Bay twice a year. Once when they’re heading down to their breeding and birthing grounds in the warm water lagoons of Baja, California. That happens in December and January. And then again when they comeback up north as they make their way to the feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. That happens in February, March and April. They’ve been doing this migration since ancient times. So they’re a sure thing if you want to go whale watching in the Monterey Bay. Of course, that’s good for us. Seeing as that is my main goal in life. At least when the weather doesn’t get in the way.

That being said. After almost two weeks of seeing pretty much only gray whales out there, today we were treated to some rare visitors and had a pretty well-rounded day of marine wildlife viewing. Sure, we always get great looks at sea otters, sea lions and some species of pelagic birds.

But today was exciting in the diversity. We started out in a pesky 5′-7′ short period swell making the going a bit rocky. And it didn’t get a whole lot better as we headed into deeper water to the southwest off Point Pinos. By the time we got to the mouth of The Bay, the area we call the “Gray Whale Superhighway,” we were dealing with some 4′-6′ very steep swells. Not enough to be dangerous, but just enough to tire you out from having to constantly fight against the rocking and rolling of the boat.

Regardless, we had some outstanding views of these magnificent gray whales. I love when two of them do simultaneous tail flukes. Unfortunately, I had my hands full manning the helm today, so I didn’t get any gray whale shots. After over an hour of great viewing, we decided to head into deeper water toward center of The Bay.

Black-footed albatross
A black-footed albatross buzzes the boat above a pod of about 1,000 common dolphins. The dolphins and the albatross seemed to be feeding together. Photo: Sack 03-07-2012

The sea conditions seemed to have gotten calmer as we made our way to the Northwest towards Moss Landing. That’s when I spotted the unmistakable splashing and ocean surface disturbance of what was obviously some type of dolphins. Usually common dolphins, pacific white-sided or even Dall’s Porpoise.

Today it was a pod of about 1,000 common dolphins. What a relief. It’s always nice to break up the trip with a friendly group of frolicking dolphins. These animals will often come over to us and buzz the boat, bow ride and jump out of the water as they cruise the area. This group was clearly feeding. So that was cool. And I got to take some photos too.

There were also a few Albatross feeding along side the dolphins. I was stoked to get some nice shots of one these amazing birds. They are very well adapted for what they do. They’re known to fly all the way from Hawaii. They lock their wings in place and just ride the wind. I’m guessing they made some good time with that heavy wind we had yesterday. They’re not usually around here this time of year. We usually see them more often toward the late spring and summer.

We hung out with the dolphins and the albatross for about a half hour before I made a course for Moss Landing.

Northern Fur Seal
A young Northern Fur Seal was just kind of hanging out there all alone in the middle of The Bay. Photo: Sack 03-07-2012

On the way in, after about 20 minutes underway, Dorris came to the wheel house and shouted at me to stop the boat. She gets pretty excited. Sometimes it scares me because I think something’s wrong.

Apparently, she spotted the tell-tale shape of young Northern fur seal. It looks like a brown circle sticking out of the water. It’s formed by a fur seal lying on its side at the surface and holding both front and rear flippers up out of the water linked together to form a “jug handle”. So we turned around and sure enough, there it was. I got some great photos of this peculiar looking animal as well.

Biologists call this behavior “jugging”. It is actually a form of thermo-regulation to conserve body heat. The seal can minimize heat loss to the cold water and warm itself up by “sunning” its flippers. This is one of the many “cool” adaptations we find in marine mammals.

We don’t see many fur seals in the Monterey Bay or close to shore in California. Most are found farther out to sea and way up north in Alaska where the majority of them breed. Although, there is a breeding colony on San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands. The females and young pups do roam the offshore waters in the NE Pacific while feeding, but seldom come close enough in for us to get a glimpse. Today’s sighting was a special treat as the young pup turned somersaults in the water and repeatedly popped up to peer up at us inquisitively. This photograph shows the distinctive shape of the nose and face which is a more blunt profile than the California sea lion, it’s closest relative in Monterey Bay.

You may be wondering – What is the difference between a seal, a sea lion or a fur seal? Common names can be confusing. The Northern Fur Seal, Callorhinus ursinus, is in the same family as the sea lions, the Otariidae. These animals can be distinguished by their tiny external ear flaps and their ability to rotate their long rear flippers underneath their bodies to move about on land. True seals, such as the local harbor seal and elephant seal, are in the Family Phocidae. At least that’s what Dorris said.

03-05-2012: We didn’t go out today. Boat Maintenance, Finishing Up The Last Few Items on Our Annual Coast Guard Inspection List, Final touches on Our New Van Graphics

The very cool new Sanctuary Mobile. This isn't the final design. But it's pretty darn close. Coming to a Monterey Bay road near you.

Today we completed some minor boat maintenance items that needed to get done. Sometimes we need a little down time to get these things completed. The conditions didn’t look that great anyways. There seemed to be some wind out there and a bit of wind swell. So I don’t think we missed much.

I also got some of the final changes done to our very cool graphics for our new van wrap. It’s going to be quite the piece of art. I pretty much do all of our graphic design work myself. You know what they say. If you want something done right… And I always want everything done right. I’m quite the stickler that way.

Speaking of things done right. What do you think of our new website? We’re still not finished with all the pages, but I really like our new look and it’s just going to get better moving forward. Our van is going to have a very similar look.

It should be quite the spectacle as we’re cruising down the road. It’s a full underwater scene with all the different types of species we see out there in the Monterey Bay. Not to mention our cool new van also runs on 99% biodiesel made from local restaurant waste oil. We get it from our good friends at The Green Station in Santa Cruz.

Our next trip is Wednesday because I need to take a coast guard required test on Tuesday. We still have a very light load and conditions are looking very good. So if you want to go out with only a handful of people, Wednesday would be a good day to do it.