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.
Killer whales on the prowl. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 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.
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.
Large male killer whale. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 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.
Killer whales waiting for more dolphins to show up. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 04-14-2016.
The end result when killer whales come across a large pod of common dolphins. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 04-14-2016
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!
These killer whales were at the mouth of The Bay. It was about twelve miles out from Moss Landing. Photo: Michael Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com. 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.
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.
This lone humpback was feeding on surface krill just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, www.sanctuarycruises.com. 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.
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, sanctuarycruises.com 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.
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, sanctuarycruises.com 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.
Dense krill patch just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 04-01-2016
We’ll see what happens today. Stay tuned for the report from today.
Lunge-feeding humpbacks just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Mike Sabina, www.sanctuarycruises.com 03-27-2016
Today was exceptional. We were on about 100 or so common dolphins right out the gate. I could see the dolphin-water splash pattern before we even left the harbor. So that’s always nice. Often this time of year we’re going for an hour or more before we find any whales or dolphins. Not the case from late April through November. We often have humpback whales just outside the Moss Landing Harbor. In the Summer, people can sometimes get good looks right from the jetty rocks at the Moss Landing Harbor entrance.
Orcas showed up about six miles to the southwest of Moss Landing. Photo: Michael Sack, 03-30-2016.
Just as we left the harbor, we also had heard reports of a couple of humpback whales about four miles from our position so we made a course and were on the scene in about 25 minutes. We had great looks at these two humpbacks. But they did seem to be feeding deep. But they were consistent on their course and a 3-5 minute dive cycle. So that was nice.
We stumbled across this young male elephant seal as we were making our way in. Photo: Michael Sack, 03-30-2016.
Then we heard reports of orcas about another four-miles to the West and heading our way. So we had one more look at the humpbacks and made a course for the black and whites. They passed up an elephant seal. That’s usually one of their favored meals. So they must have eaten recently. After we got on them, they were pretty much on a northbound course in travel formation. That’s when the whole pod is in a line next to each other and they are just moving along at five to ten knots. So that’s what they were doing. So we watched them for about 45-minutes before decided to let them go on their way heading up the coast. We came across at least another 6-8 whales on the way in. They were mostly in groups of two.
We seem to be settling into a consistent Spring cycle over the last week or so. That means calm, decent sea conditions in the morning and howling winds and unruly seas in the afternoon. Sunny all day long. This is when our “upwelling” starts to kick into high gear. We are starting to see some shallow phyto-plankton layers.
The humpbacks have been pretty well scattered over the last couple of days. We’ve had a few days this week with surface lunge-feeding humpbacks. Not the rampant kind of lunge-feeding that we see closer to Summer and Fall. Often accompanied by a feeding frenzy of diving pelicans, terns, shearwaters and sea gulls. Today was more like the occasional, random lunge-feed by one animal. The anchovies have also been scattered. We haven’t seen the big dense surface patches of anchovies that we expect to see as we get closer to mid-April.
So far this winter, our humpback whale population seems to be settling back into what we would consider a “normal” migration cycle. Our humpbacks historically migrate to the warmer southern climates from January through late March to give birth and breed.
Most of the humpbacks in our population did migrate away from the Monterey Bay. to Southern Mexico and as far south as Costa Rica. I would say that we have had more whales show up in The Bay today. Hopefully they will find food and stay.
Lunge-feeding humpback just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com, 03-18-2016
We had a big change up in the system today. We had between 4 and 6 humpbacks feeding just outside the harbor entrance. Not just feeding, but surface lunge-feeding. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s been a while. So it’s nice to see some close in lunge-feeding again.
These things just kept going at it about every ten minutes. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com, 03-18-2016.
Today we never went more than a couple of miles out. We were pretty well on the action within about five minutes of leaving the harbor and stayed with whales or dolphins for the entire three-hour trip.
These common dolphins were right in the middle of it all. Looks like the spring action is starting. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com, 03-18-2016
We’ll see what happens today. Check back later this evening for an update.
We didn’t see big schools of fish at the surface. But we could see some jumping just before a big surface lunge. It looks like anchovies. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com 03-18-2016.
This young humpback breached over 20 times. Photo: Michael Sack, 03-04-2016.
We’ve been fortunate to have a run of nice weather. So we haven’t really been limited on where we can go. And it’s a good thing because most of the action has been pretty scattered. A lot of long divers lately. We think they’ve been feeding deep on limited amounts of krill. They also appear to be more in search mode than full-scale feeding. We’ve been having some 20-minute whales. When we come up against this, we usually move on. But we’ve also come across a chronic breacher or two. We also saw our first gray whale mother and calf pair the other day. There have also been a lot of black-footed albatross around.
We’ve been seeing a lot of these black-footed albatross after we get out to about five miles. Photo: Michael Sack.
The orcas can’t be far behind. We generally start to see orcas more frequently as we get closer to April and then into June. The Monterey Bay is notorious as an ambush zone for orcas predating on gray whale calves with their mothers as they make their way north to Alaska from their birthing grounds in the warm water lagoons on the Pacific side of Baja (Check out National Geographic’s coverage of an Orca attack on a gray whale mother and calf from aboard the Sanctuary.
Chin-slapper. We’re not sure why some of these whales do this. Most of them don’t breach like this. That is, throat first. Photo: Michael Sack, sanctuarycruises.com.
We’ve been running every day this week and hope to continue this schedule through Easter. Also we’re going to start doing some sailing tours for those who want a quieter marine life experience. Only six passengers per cruise. Give us a call or go to our reservation booking page to see the schedule for sailing tours.
There are many long-beaked common dolphin in The Bay right now. On some trips we’ve seen several different, large pods. We’ve also been hearing reports of large pods off of Monterey. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-07-2016.
Many humpbacks appeared in The Bay today. We didn’t see them in large concentrations. We were mainly seeing singles and doubles. But we also heard reports of humpbacks to the south toward Monterey as well as up off Santa Cruz Point and Steamer Lane.
Many humpbacks have shown up in the Monterey Bay. We won’t be running again until Friday. I’m sure if they can find enough food to eat they won’t go anywhere. We’ll report back this coming Friday. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-07-2016.
It will be interesting to see if they stick around. That would be awesome. We’ll start running more trips if that is the case. For now we’re still mainly running Friday thru Sunday. The weather has been amazing over the last week or so. Warm and glassy, calm ocean conditions.
It’s nice to have our humpbacks back. Hopefully they’re here for the season. Otherwise its back to watching grays pass by on their way to the lagoons of Baja. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-07-2016.
California Gray Whale tail-fluke. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-05-2016
Today turned out beautiful. It’s a good thing the conditions were nice, because we had to go for an hour and a half before we came across anything. We enjoyed some excellent looks at a nice group of three southbound, gray whale travelers. They were staying up nicely as we tracked them for a handful of dive cycles.
We’ve been seeing these long-beaked common dolphins on almost every trip. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-05-2016.
With conditions so nice, we decided to head out a little further to the West until we got the ledge of the canyon where it dropped off to over 4,500 feet deep. We followed the ledge north until we got to where we call “The Corner.” The ledge of the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon turns toward Moss Landing at that point. We always find more productivity along the ledge of the canyon. Fortunately both the northwest ledge and the southwest ledges both lead to Moss Landing. Because the Moss Landing Harbor mouth is where the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon begins. So we followed the ledge in and that’s when we came across these long-beaked common dolphins.
California Gray off Point Pinos. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-05-2016.
By the time we left the grays as they journeyed south to Baja, we were almost to Cypress Point. That’s the north end of the Carmel Bay. So it ended up being a nice ride. Until the humpbacks show up again in April, we will likely be running 4-5 hour trips. Stay tuned.
We’ve been seeing common dolphins regularly. Almost on every trip. But we never really know. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
The winter has been rough on the whale watching. We’ve been running trips mainly on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. And we have also been running our longer 4-hour+ trips. It’s pretty clear at this point that no humpbacks stuck around the Moss Landing area this winter. So I guess last year was a fluke. We had a couple humpbacks early in January, but after that we haven’t seen them.
Offshore orcas feed on fish just outside of Carmel Bay. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
So it’s back to the “gray whale grind” as I like to call it. This usually means heading out to where the “gray whale highway” is. Unfortunately that’s about 10-15 miles out. Sometimes we’ve been lucky and have had sightings just outside the harbor or some dolphins a couple of miles out. We’ve been doing pretty well with the dolphins, actually. Mainly long-beaked common dolphins. But we really never know what we’re going to see. We could have orcas show up anytime anywhere on The Bay. Speaking of orcas…
Today was incredible. It did take us 1.5 hours before we really saw much. So it was kind of a rough start. But once we were in the zone things got really interesting.
We rarely get to see this. That’s because this was a rare sightiing of “offshore” type orcas. This type of orca eats mailnly fish. They were behaving and feeding like common dolphins. Which of course they are technically are dolphins. But the “transient” orcas we normally see here in the Monterey Bay don’t eat fish. They eat mammals. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
About 500-700 common dolphins. Then another 200 further out high-tailing it toward us. We’re talking full on, high-speed, frantic porpoising. We’ve seen this before. Just before a bunch of orcas showed up and caused mayhem.
More orca watching. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
The next thing we knew there were about 30 orcas cruising all around the area. Turns out they were offshore type. So they were not after the dolphins. The “offshores” eat mainly pelagic fish like tuna and sharks.
There are three “eco-types” of orcas that we know of: The “Residents” who mainly live up in Puget Sound, Washington State and Alaska area. They mainly eat fish like salmon. Then there are the “Transients”. We normally see the transients here in the Monterey Bay. They are mammal eaters. We’ve seen them hunt and eat long-beaked common dolphins, harbor seals, elephant seals and sea lions. I’m pretty sure the dolphins don’t know the difference between “residents”, “transients” and “offshores.” They all pretty much look the same. The “offshores” are what we saw today. This is a very rare sighting for us. These animals are more typically found far offshore.
Orca feeds on fish. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
They were carrying on like a small pod of dolphins. They were circling around corralling and eating fish. It was such easy watching. They were just kept circling around, pretty much going under for only a minute or two at a time. We also had a nice swimby by a couple large males. So that was cool. You really get a sense for how large these animals are when they are only a few feet from you. Amazing.
We almost always see black-footed albatross when we see orca’s feeding. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
At any rate, we’ve been seeing excellent long-beaked common dolphins. So, that has been nice. Long-beaked commons, as we call them, love playing in our wake and riding alongside the boat. It is really neat to see. Especially in smooth, clear water on a nice sunny day. We have had those sprinkled in over the last couple of months. The occasional warm sunny day. Pretty far and few between.
This is one of the big males. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
January was very stormy. We had to cancel more than not. It’s mostly been gray whale watching. Maybe every other trip we’re getting glimpses of young, southbound gray whales cruising along the coast just outside the harbor.
On the way in we stumbled across about 10-15 Risso’s dolphins. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2016.
We more often see this happening during the gray whale’s northbound migration. And more often than not it is a mother and calf. They will cruise by the harbor area just outside the surf line. We believe the mother bring their calves along the shore to avoid predation by orcas, aka killer whales.
We never know what we’re going to see out there. It was nice coming across these Risso’s on the way in. Photo: Michael Sack, 02-03-2015.
If the weather cooperates, we’ll be running Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Once the humpbacks start showing, we’ll getting back to it and running more trips during the week. There’s still a lot to see out there when the weather cooperates.
Humpbacks on the prowl just outside Moss Landing Harbor. Beautiful conditions, easy watching. Photo: Michael Sack, 12-28-2015.
So far so good for winter whale watching. We still have about six humpbacks feeding in front of Moss Landing. There’s also been a lot of birds working the area feeding on anchovies.
Humpback whale goes down for a dive. Photo: Michael Sack, 12-28-2015.
The weather has been unstable for the last few weeks. So it’s been hit or miss. But when a nice weather window opens like we’ve had over the last couple of days, we’re loving it.
Humpbacks just outside of the harbor. Photo: Michael Sack, 12-27-2015.
Most of the action has been just outside of the harbor. We have done some exploring and more often than not, things are pretty quiet out there beyond three miles. No birds, no anchovies, no whales.
I did do an early morning scouting trip this morning and came across about 200-300 common dolphins right outside of the harbor. But we didn’t see them on our 10:30 trip.
Right now it’s all about the weather. So when the weather has been nice we’re on it. We’ve also heard reports of orcas in the area. So we’re always keeping an eye out for the big black fin of the male orca.
For the moment we’re planning on running as much as possible to take advantage of the humpbacks right outside the harbor. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months. We may be looking at a repeat of last years historic event where 6-10 humpbacks didn’t do the normal migration to Southern Mexico. They stayed here for the entire year. We plan on running most days for the next few weeks as long as the humpbacks stick around. Stay tuned for updates.
Sunday’s Whale Watch – Flat, beautiful water and a chilly breeze from shore made today a beautiful day already, but our 10:30 trip was greeted a little ways out into the bay with a breaching humpback! It gave us at least four breaches and some pec slaps, while its traveling companion threw a tail lob and then headed in a different direction. While this whale put on a show, we watched in awe. As it left, we spotted a small group of long-beaked common dolphins. As we played with the dolphins for a while, they led us back toward a group of diving birds. A hundred more common dolphins, pelicans, sea lions, and lunge-feeding humpbacks rounded out a really spectacular day out on the water. Photo: Vicky Stein
Yesterday morning our first trip was seeing lunge-feeding humpback whales before we even left the harbor mouth. An enormous flock of birds (brown pelicans, Heerman’s gulls, cormorants, and murres, among others) dove into the water as the whales lunged vertically out of the water, mouths open wide. I’m sure the view from the beach was good, but the view from our deck was incredible. Here’s a shot of three whales, in different stages of their lunge. Check out those baleen plates, and the big pink inside of the whales’ upper jaws- the last thing those anchovies will ever see.
Both yesterday and today we were treated to some amazing tail flukes, whales parading by our boat. Sometimes the light was just right (I think it could be because the sun is relatively low this time of the year) for some nice rain-blows, as Captain Mike likes to call them. The condensing air from the whales’ breaths forms pretty little rainbows over the surface of the bay!
On both days, we also had the chance to spend some time with hundreds, if not over a thousand long-beaked common dolphins. Tricky to photograph, because they’re so fast, I managed to get one shot of a juvenile and its mother surfacing right alongside the Sanctuary. Any day with dolphins is a great day!
Despite the winter chill in the wind, it’s been a sunny and wonderful weekend so far out of Moss Landing. Monterey Bay has delivered spectacular views, sunshine, and lots and lots of marine life. Come out and visit us and the whales!
11-22-15 Amazingly we have lots of whale action still at Moss Landing. Saturday there were at least 8 humpbacks lunge feeding a the harbor mouth and we’ve had Risso’s and Common Dolphins almost every single trip this week. We haven’t seen the orcas for a week now – but we know they could show up anytime. The sea lions were gathering in a big mob and foraging along with the humpbacks yesterday, which makes it even more exciting. We have space on our 2 pm trip today and well as both trips tomorrow. We are running daily trips all week except Thanksgiving Day (we don’t ask our crew to miss holidays with their friends and family).
There were about 10 humpbacks breaching and carrying on with other hijinks. Photo: Chace Dekker, Sanctuary Cruises, 10-15-2015.
As we left the harbor today the wind started to whip up and put some chop on the water. Luckily, there wasn’t a lot sea with it. But a pesky little chop did made for a little rocking and rolling. After about 10-minutes of running, we came across two mola molas. Also known as the giant ocean sunfish. They were floating there right next to each other as a sea lion seemed to be circling around them. Circled a few times and got some great looks of these odd creatures and continued on.
This was during our photo workshop tour earlier in the week. We had perfect lighting, spectacular sunset. Photo: Chace Dekker, Sanctuary Cruises, 10-13-2015.
A few minutes later as we were heading to the west, we started noticing blows another mile or so out. So we made a course headed in that direction. Soon we also could see “dolphin water”. Dolphins will create a break in the surface water pattern. It usually looks like a lot of little splashes from a distance.
What an incredible afternoon / evening whale watch. Sunset really did look like that. Amazing. Photo: Chace Dekker, Sanctuary Cruises, 10-13-2015.
We had excellent looks at these common dolphins as they leveraged the energy in our wake behind, along side and in front of the boat. After about 10-15 minutes of cruising with the dolphins, we noticed a massive breach about 300 yards from us so we slowed and focused out attention on where the whale just breached.
The feeding continues. Photo: Michael Sack, Sanctuary Cruises, 10-09-2015.
The next thing we knew, we were in the middle of about 10-whales that began to full-breach, pectoral fin slap and tail-lob around us. This was one of the more spectacular encounters we’ve seen. These animals were active. And it was a lot of them. There was even one animal that tail-lobbed so close it got some of the passengers wet.
This was a full-on feeding frenzy for about two hours. Photo: Michael Sack, 10-09-2015.
So the action just continues right out in front of Moss Landing.