June 6 aboard Dos Osos with Captain Kevin, we saw a gray whale, about 2 months past the season when they are usually here. Normally they migrate past Morro Bay Dec.-early Feb. going south, then return north late Feb.-April. That day we also saw a minke whale several times. This was also unusual because that species often doesn't show itself more than once or twice. At one point, the minke whale was swimming in one direction, and crossed paths with the gray whale which was headed the opposite direction. An amazing day!
June 12, it took Kevin and me (and several whale watchers) awhile to get out where some other boats had spotted whales, but once there it was obvious that there were 2 blue whales. One was a juvenile, probably 55-60' long, and the other was much larger, perhaps 75-80' long. An adult blue whale's blowhole is about a foot long, and the blow is a tall straight cloud like an Italian cypress tree, 30-40' tall. There are few words to describe what it's like to be next to such immense creatures.
June 13 was foggy. Captain David Butler and I used a technique we've used before to find whales. We'd motor along for awhile, turn the motors off and listen for about 10 minutes, then move on. The third time we listened, we heard a whale's loud huff behind us. We caught up to a humpback whale that was making repeated shallow dives. It dove 25-30 times, only raising its tail twice. At one point, we saw a huge patch of tiny krill (shrimp, Euphausia superba) just under the water's surface. The whale was evidently gorging on that. While headed back in the fog, we encountered the same 2 blue whales seen on June 12, and another one or two. It was a little hard to tell how many whales were there, because their grayish-white blow melted into the foggy background. Hearing that blue whales were seen again on June 18 makes me want to shout that You Gotta Come Along. OK, you probably figured out, I work on the boat, but really it's exciting. Come check us out.
June 19, Kevin and I were with 4 blue whales for an hour and a half! This included two 75-footers and two smaller, probably juvenile individuals. At one point two blue whales were swimming toward the boat. We know they won't hit us, but it's unnerving anyway. At another point 3 blues spouted at the same time, and as their mist was drifting away, the 4th one came up and blew. We get to spend quality time with the world's largest animals--and you can too. Trips leave at 9:00 AM, with afternoon trips if there is enough interest. We'll go if you want to and the weather cooperates!
June 26, Captain Wayne Blecha and I headed southwest toward Montana de Oro and Pt. Buchon. It wasn’t long before we saw spouts. There was a group of blue whales about 3 miles from the harbor. We came up to them, and saw that there were at least 5, perhaps 6, close to the boat, with another two whales closer to shore. Today we’d follow a whale for 2o minutes or so, then it would disappear. Overall, they put on such a show that we spent almost an hour and a half with them. Reluctantly, we headed back to shore. We’ve put this into the blog before, but blue whales are very rare in our area. They are regularly seen in summer and early fall in the Santa Barbara Channel, but very seldom off our coastline. This is a unique opportunity!
Morning, June 27, Capt. Dave Butler and I were on the boat again. We spotted whales at a distance. As we got closer, we saw that it was a large humpback whale with a juvenile—probably her offspring from last year. I say “probably” because we aren’t doing genetic studies, but it is common for young humpbacks to stay with their mother for a year or more beyond weaning. We followed these whales for 45 minutes, and while headed in, we saw 3 blue whales. Continuing in, the humpback and blue whales alternated. What a great wildlife spectacle today!
Afternoon, June 27, the sightings were so good this morning that we went out for an afternoon trip as well. There weren’t as many people, but the weather stayed calm, and we started seeing blue whale spouts on the horizon before we were even out of the harbor mouth. They were actually just beyond the ½ mile buoy where the California sea lions hang out. We saw spouts of 3 different whales, and at one point a minke whale surfaced, obviously riding the bow wave of a blue whale. The minke whale swam closely past the boat, then disappeared as this species often does. One blue whale began approaching the boat, so Captain Dave simply turned off the motors and let us drift. A large adult blue whale, 75-80 ft. long, circled the boat for 45 minutes. Time and time again it came up within 15-20 ft. of the boat and blew its enormous breath, sometimes moistening us with its mist. The sound alone startled us often, as we looked in one direction for its reappearance, only to have it surface somewhere else. The animal made repeated passes and arcs through the krill, which we could see on the fish-finder between 30 and 180 ft. down. The immense power of the whale was palpable—we could see its tremendous muscles working, see its great blowhole open and close, hear its breath and sometimes feel it. There was none of the foul smell that sometimes comes with humpback whale breath. To experience all this on a calm ocean, with the boat’s motors silenced, out of earshot of land, was to experience sea life in a powerful and full way.
2010 will be remembered as a year for curious blue whales, swimming toward the boat, and in this case circling it at close range.
Mon., June 28, I didn’t work on the boat. Melody, who usually works in the office and on the dock, went on the boat as a deckhand. I had been urging her to experience the blue whales firsthand. The whales were out there. She reported that a blue whale swam underneath the boat. Whales of various species sometimes do this, appearing on one side of the boat, then another, perhaps trying to evade us, perhaps just catching some food and coming up where it pleases them. More blue whales were seen during the week, indicating that this is no longer just a passing phenomenon. The blue whales have been here more than two weeks now, which by itself indicates how rich and productive the ocean is. We have seen great masses of krill on the fish-finder and with our own eyes. An adult blue whale can eat 4,000 lb. of food in a day, and they feed almost exclusively on krill. An engineer on a recent trip Googled the calorie content of shrimp and found it to be about 500 calories per pound. Assuming krill to be somewhere close to this, an adult blue whale eats about 2 million calories of food every day. Another way to look at the productivity of the ocean is this: If there are 10 blue whales in our area (there could be more, or fewer, but this is a starting point), they have eaten about 560,000 pounds or 280 tons of krill in the slightly more than 2 weeks they have been here. This translates to billions, if not trillions, of individual krill, which is also providing food to small schooling fishes, seabirds, humpback whales, and more. The ocean can look empty to a casual observer, but it is teeming with life, especially this year.
Sat., July 3, early morning photography tour. We found a blue whale to the southwest. Seas were calm, but unfortunately the whale kept swimming seaward of the boat. This meant that to approach it for photos, we had to drive into the swells, making for a bumpy ride. It was difficult to get photos.
On later tours that day, we saw humpback whales 6-7 miles from shore, then blue whales closer to shore.
Sun., July 4, we saw two humpback whales in the morning. During the afternoon trip, we visited the same two—which we could tell by the tail flukes and the fact that one of them had a set of shallow propeller cuts just behind its blowholes. These two whales approached the boat very closely: 5-10 feet, sometimes just below the surface as we watched them pirouette. At one point, one of the whales stuck its nose out of the water toward the boat. It could not have been more than 3 feet away. If I had had the presence of mind, I would have opened the gate, leaned out, and touched the whale. That will have to wait for some other time.
2010 will also be remembered as the year of the “friendly” humpback whales. These 2 humpbacks today were as close to the boat as the legendary gray whales of Baja California.
Mon., July 5, sorry to say we did not see whales. On one of the trips we saw a pair of harbor porpoises but no other marine mammals at sea. We almost always see seabirds, and some marine mammals inside the bay, such as sea otters, harbor seals, and California sea lions.
Sat., July 10, another early photo tour. We spent about an hour with a pair of humpback whales, which made the photographers very happy. Later that day we saw blue whales, one of which startled us by surfacing to blow behind the boat as we passed by. We ran three trips altogether, and saw whales on all of them. On one of those trips we also saw a small school of common dolphins, with a couple of Pacific white-sided dolphins mixed in.
Sun., July 11, In the morning we saw one blue whale and spent about an hour and a half with it. Some of its dives were very long: 9-10 minutes, with one dive 14 min. long. During this time it is easy for people to get distracted and forget that they are looking for whales. In the afternoon, we found at least 5 blue whales, and possibly another two. With single whales or pairs below the surface, moving large distances underwater as this species does, and surfacing away from where we had seen them last, it becomes a bit difficult to determine exactly how many whales are present.
Mon., July 12, the sea is still like glass as it has been for most of the last 2 weeks or more. There was a fog bank offshore, which we drove into as we headed seaward. Capt. Cavan Hadley and I spotted a blue whale about 7 miles offshore and we spent nearly an hour with it. During this time, however, the whale took some very long dives, the longest being 17 minutes. Fortunately, it surfaced near its dive area a few times, which made it easy to stay with it. If it had swum away in the fog, it would have been difficult to find it again.
I should mention that we have seen blue whales raise their tail flukes numerous times. Some whale-watching books state that blues rarely raise their flukes when diving, or that they do this only one about one in ten dives. It seems to us that it happens more often than this. Also, blue whales appear to have a mottled pattern of markings on the underside of their flukes that may be as distinctive to them as the fluke markings of humpback whales. Further study is needed to confirm or refute this.
Today is cause for celebration. My first blue whale blog was June 12-one month ago today. The blue whales have taken up summer residence. They have also been spotted in Monterey Bay, and are feeding in their more usual places in the Santa Barbara Channel. Come see them with us while they’re still here!
Sat., July 17, sorry to say we did not see whales today despite 3 trips, one of them a photography tour.
Sun., July 18, one blue whale swimming across our bow, and a humpback which put on a good but brief show that included a few breaches. This was welcome because seas were a bit rough today, and we went about 7 miles to find the whales. The humpback was headed away from the harbor, so we only saw it for a short (but sweet) time before heading in.
Sat., July 24, on the morning trip we saw 1 minke whale, 2 blue whales, and 3 humpbacks. Everybody was excited. In the afternoon, we again saw a minke whale, 2-4 blues (this species moves so fast while submerged that it can be difficult to tell whether one is seeing the same 2 whales later in the trip), and large number of humpback whales. There were probably 20-25 whales all around us. We’d see a spout, then 2 others, then 3 or 4 more, then another. This went on for quite awhile. On both trips today we spent nearly 2 hours with the whales.