Monthly Archives: April 2016

04-14-2016: Killer Whales Take Down A Common Dolphin

Today was a tough call. NOAA Marine Weather was calling for small craft advisory at 11:00 AM. Our trip this morning was scheduled for a 10:30 AM departure. That doesn’t give us much time before conditions start to deteriorate. So we felt like it would make more sense to reschedule everyone and try and again tomorrow.

Monterey Bay Killer Whale

Killer whales on the prowl. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-14-2016.

I get up very early and conditions were manageable at the crack of dawn. So I decided to take the boat out to see if I could find some orcas. I can do that. It’s one of the great things about owning boats. I have open access to The Monterey bay. I like it that way. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve either been seeing killer whales just about every day or we have heard reports of them being seen by other boats. This is the best orca season we’ve had in a few years. We are having regular sightings. Pretty much daily.

Monterey Bay Killer Whale

It wasn’t long before I thought I saw what looked like jumping orcas. So I was encouraged. But they were still a ways off. After about 15 minutes of cruising I was on them. And I also saw a gray whale in the area heading north. So I’m thinking this could get interesting. But the killer whales were heading in a Southwest direction the last time they went down. I slowed the boat down a little and kept an eye on the gray whale, wondering if the orcas were going to turn around. After about seven minutes, the orcas popped up about 1/2  mile to the Southwest as they seemed to have held their Southwest course and either did’t notice the gray whale or were not interested.

Monterey Bay Killer Whale

Large male killer whale. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-14-2016.

After about 15-20 minutes of tracking these orcas, I noticed a large pod of long-beaked common dolphins making their way directly toward the killer whales from the direction of shore. I’ve been in this position one other time and I was pretty sure what was about to happen. The next thing I knew there was a huge splash. It was an orca coming up on a common dolphin. The stampede was on after that. Check out the video of the moment the attack happened to see what I mean. Incredible morning out there.

Monterey Bay Killer Whale

Killer whales waiting for more dolphins to show up. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-14-2016.

Monterey Bay Whale Watching

Killer Whales

The end result when killer whales come across a large pod of common dolphins. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-14-2016

04-05-2016 Amazing Orca Encounter Gray Whale Calf Predation Event

Check out some video from today:

Today was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining days ever out on Sanctuary  for Orca lovers.  We came upon a small pod of six Orcas just after they had killed a gray whale calf. We missed the actual predation event (which for some might seem a relief) but were able to hang with these whales for over two and a half solid hours in the same place while they milled about, frolicked and dove down below to munch on the gray whale carcass. We only got a brief glimpse of the poor gray whale calf as it bobbed up for less than a minute to the surface. So this was not a gory or gruesome observation event.  Instead, we had active, curious and playful Orcas putting on a show to the delight of our passengers. There were three major highlights: a full sized male orca charging at our boat and then taking THREE breaches right next to the boat, the same male swimming at our bow, then cruising along the full side and back of the boat within two feet giving us all a thrill of a lifetime and then having four large orcas blasting towards us from the outer bay and taking a synchronous airborne leap right next to the boat.  There was enough tail slapping and close surfacings to keep everyone enthralled for the entire trip. A separate pod of four Orcas came blasting in from the Outer Bay and spent the last hour with us as well. We can only assume they were partaking in some of the meal as well. A bit unusual was the presence of two rather stationary humpback whales right at the predation scene. They bobbed up and down taking breaths and hung around for the first half hour which was indeed curious. A black-footed albatross came in and circled for the last hour giving all excellent views of this awesome seabird.  Well – this spring Orca season is getting off to a grand beginning.  We expect this to continue through mid-May with the northbound gray whale mother:calf pairs coming through Monterey Bay in strong numbers. What an amazing Orca day!

04-01-2016: Surface Krill Swarms In Front of Moss Landing, Humpback Surface Lunging on Krill, Killer Whales On the Outside

Monterey Bay Killer Whales

These killer whales were at the mouth of The Bay. It was about twelve miles out from Moss Landing. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016

We were on a couple of humpbacks within a few miles of leaving the harbor. We had some decent looks. But this animal was in search mode. It would go under and come up 10-15 minutes later a quarter mile away. So we only stuck around for a couple of dive cycles. Early on we heard reports of orcas about 10+ miles to the southwest. So we always had that in our back pocket. But that’s about an hour run for us. And that’s if they don’t change course and start heading away from us. So I was a little reluctant as first.

Monterey Bay Killer Whales

These animals were clearly heading to the north for most of the time we were with them. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016.

We weren’t planning on going out there because orcas can just take off and be gone if they are not on a kill. But as I was monitoring the movements of the killer whales on the radio with another boat that was with them, it appeared as though they were heading our way. So I made the call to set a course and make a break for the killer whales. It took us about 45 minutes to get on them. They changed course and started heading north. But we did finally catch up to them and tracked them for about an hour before they just suddenly took off at 10-15 knots to the west. It was quite something to see. They took off at near full cruising speed doing what we call “porpoising.” This where they jump out of the water as they move quickly through the water, much the way smaller dolphins do. Unfortunately, they were moving quickly through the water away from us. So that was that. And with the wind picking up and choppy conditions, there was no way we could keep up with them.

Moss Landing Whale Watching

This lone humpback was feeding on surface krill just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016

So we started making our way back toward shore when we heard reports of a humpback whale surface lunge-feeding on krill just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. So that was good news. We had a nice grand finale on the way in. The sighting turned out to be excellent.

Moss Landing Whale Watch

Another side lunge from this feeding humpback. Notice the krill patches in the foreground. The pink strip you see here in the photo is the whale’s palate. The broom-like structure hanging down from the whale’s upper jaw is it’s baleen. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016.

We could see krill swarms all over. We haven’t had any good surface-krill swarms for a few years. Maybe this will be a good year for the mighty blue whale, largest of all the cetaceans. Our Spring cycle is doing what it’s supposed to. The water temps are down between 50 and 53. We’ve been having some heavy afternoon winds and good sun all day long.

Moss Landing Whale Watching

This whale was doing this the whole time we were with it. In fact, it was still doing it when we left. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016.

So, because of the unique geological feature of the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon, we get an abundance of phytoplankton and as a result, abundant marine life productivity. Phytoplankton attracts the krill. Which is eaten by birds, fish and whales.

Moss Landing Whale Watch

Dense krill patch just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, 04-01-2016

We’ll see what happens today. Stay tuned for the report from today.