Blue Whales Everywhere!

Glassy seas in the mid Santa Barbara Channel gave way to a tiny bit of chop as the morning became the afternoon. Along with this, the stratus layer burned off and it was mostly sunny out at the Santa Cruz Island giant whale bonanza. Captain steered a direct course from Santa Barbara Harbor to the whales down at the eastern end of the island.  Once again there were whale spouts all around the compass, and we closely watched 20 blue whales, 30 offshore bottlenose dolphins and 550 long-beaked common dolphins. Lots of whales in the distance were not able to be watched closely and are not included in the totals.

Twenty blue whales on a single excursion, subtracting the time it takes to traverse the Channel to and fro, is an amazing number.  It is equaled only by counts taken way back in 2009 when we had blues and humpbacks feeding on dense krill aggregations up off Carrington Point, Santa Rosa Island.  It is a humbling experience to be surrounded by these beasts, the largest that ever lived.  More often than not you near the thunderous blow before you see the whale.  Many of these whales turn out to be “friendly,” and either come up from underneath the boat to spout in front of us, or intentionally swim towards us and then right down the side for great looks by all.

Today there were more groups of pairs than single whaled by a long shot.  Pairs of whales, trios, and larger groups were the norm.  Sometimes the lucky (and prepared) photographer might catch more than one whale spouting on the surface simultaneously.  Or, on the other hand, three whales fluking-up, one after the other as if choreographed.  Hard to photograph in the haze were numerous instances of whales spouting mightily near the boat, with other whales perhaps miles away in the background.

It’s been over a month now that the giant blues have been at Santa Cruz Island.  If you have not been out to see them, you are missing one of the top wonders of the world.  We hope and pray the spectacle continues for a while longer.

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Too Many Whales To Count!

Although there was light rain in Santa Barbara Harbor earlier this morning, it cleared up quickly and, by the time the Condor Express departed at 10am, skies had a light stratus layer but no more precipitation.  Before noon it was sunny and warm out at the eastern end of beautiful Santa Cruz Island.  Seas were very calm all day.  This gorgeous weather did a lot to enhance view of the large populations of fin whales and blue whales that we saw all day long.  The dolphins were also spectacular. The totals for closely watched whales today included 11 blue whales, 5 fin whales, and 1000 long-beaked common dolphins. There were dozens and dozens of blue whales and fin whales around the area, and we definitely saw a lot of tall spouts everywhere we looked, near and far. This is a wonderful time to see the world’s largest animals.

A small group of dolphins was intercepted just a few miles out from the harbor as we headed across the Santa Barbara Chanel this morning.  There were good looks all around, and it turned out we’d see much larger pods later near the island.

Around 1130 we reached the whale grounds and the show began.  First up we watched a single fin whale, then another, and then a pair.  We were just inside The Lanes, and still a few miles from the island, and here the fins formed a “greeting” party for us.  We did see tall spouts and smaller dorsal fins too, so after about 20 minutes watching fin whales, Captain moved the boat closer to the island and into the “land of the blues.”

The first blue whale was by far the friendliest.  It came up to the surface from under the boat, only to surface and spout right near our bow.  It did this three times!  Soon there were 4 additional blue whales on the surface together, and two of them were tail-flukers. A large herd of 500 or more dolphins came by and headed east.  Captain moved the boat slowly to follow along with them.  The dolphins moved along as we watched them and 3 more blue whales.  Two of the three swam side-by-side on the surface for a while.  One was a consistent tail-fluker.

In the distance we saw another line of dolphins heading west towards our location.  Sure enough, the westbound dolphins joined up with the eastbound dolphins to form a nice mega-pod.  This was a real treat!

As we prepared to wrap-up our island whale watching, another trio of giant blue whales popped up right along our escape route, and we watched them as we slowly motored out of the zone.  Not to be out-done, the final sighting was a big fin whale, after which we ran back across The Lanes and headed home on the flat, calm ocean.

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Whale Report

It was an epic day full of fin whale and blue whale encounters at the hot spot near beautiful Santa Cruz Island.  Skies cleared and the sun came shining down almost immediately, and seas were calm and glassy, especially in the morning.  We closely watched 8+ fin whales, 4+ blue whales, 1500 long-beaked common dolphins, 35 offshore bottlenose dolphins, and many dozens of California sea lions.  There were at least a dozen more giant whales all around the area.

We had an idea that sightings were going to be pretty hot today as we encountered a dense aggregation of sea birds, common dolphins and sea lions no more than 10 minutes after leaving Santa Barbara Harbor.  Hundreds of brown pelicans were crash-diving on a huge bait ball, and the predatory mammals were also very active.  It was a NatGeo kind of encounter.  As we departed the feeding frenzy another hundred commons appeared, and then, 10 minutes later we found a mega-pod of nearly a thousand.  Don’t worry, there were even more common dolphins seen as we came back from the whales at the island in the afternoon.

Our first giants were the fin whales today.  We located 3 single whales, and then a trio, and after that a pair that was observed racing to the west.  After these first fins a very cooperative blue showed up which had two behaviors going for it: (1) it took a LOT of breaths and thus was up on the surface a long time, and (2) it was also a tail fluker.  At this point Captain noticed the arrival of a couple dozen offshore bottlenose dolphins.  Some of them interacted with a distant pair of blue whales, while others swam slowly over to the boat for a look.  Later another dozen or so bottlenose dolphins were watched.  As mentioned above, the last sighting of the day was of around 100 additional common dolphins a few miles outside the harbor.  This group was “logging,” hardly making any forward progress, in a tight group, and looking very “relaxed” in human terms.

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Quick Facts About Santa Barbara

LOCATION: Along the Pacific Coast, Santa Barbara serenely sits just 92 miles (148 kilometers) north of Los Angeles and 332 miles (534 kilometers) south of San Francisco.

POPULATION: Approximately 90,412 residents reside within Santa Barbara city limits.  435,697 reside in all of Santa Barbara County.

TIME ZONE: Santa Barbara is in the Pacific Time Zone, observing daylight savings times from mid-March to early November.

WEATHER: Moderate year-round Mediterranean climate 15-20 degrees C/60-80 degrees F.

TRANSPORTATION: Visitors may arrive via scenic Highway 1 (101), daily stops on Amtrak trains or air service via:

  • Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) is 8 mi/3 kilometers drive north of downtown. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines service the airport with non-stop service from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Dallas.
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 90 mi/148 kilometers drive with non-stop services to 106 destinations.
  • Bob Hope Burbank Airport (BUR) 100 mi/160 kilometers with non-stop services to 14 destinations.

TAXES: 8% sales tax, 12% hotel occupancy tax.

BEACHES: Twenty-five beaches stretch approximately 100 miles/160 kilometers of south-facing, scenic shoreline.

OUTDOORS: 55 parks and 8 public gardens offer an array of outdoor recreation and activities.

MAJOR ATTRACTIONS: 13 major attractions, museums & points of interest including: Channel Islands National Park known as the Galapagos of North America.

LODGING: Countywide, Santa Barbara offers 143 properties with 9,114 hotel rooms from economy to luxury.

RESTAURANTS: Over 450 restaurants.

ENTERTAINMENT: 6 major performance venues, 200 annual classic and contemporary stage productions and lively nightlife at local breweries, bars and pubs.

VINEYARDS & WINERIES: 220 vineyards are located on 23,000 acres countywide representing six American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and 36 wine tasting rooms are accessible in walkable downtown along the Urban Wine Trail.

GOLF COURSES: 6 golf courses.

LARGEST MEETING VENUE: Earl Warren Fairgrounds 35,000 sq. ft.

LARGEST HOTEL: 360 committable guestrooms; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

LARGEST HOTEL BALLROOM SPACE: 12,000 sq. ft.

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Kayak Season Is Here!

Captain Jacks Santa Barbara Tours conducts guided 1.5 – 2 hour kayak tours of the Santa Barbara Harbor at 10:30 & 1:30 daily. Experience California’s most beautiful harbor on this fun and easy tour. Our professionally guided tour includes a kayak lesson/briefing, all kayak gear and paddles. This tour is the perfect introduction to kayaking and is fun for the entire family. Your tour starts at the boat launch, winds through the harbor, under Stearns Wharf, and out to the one mile buoy. Chances are good the locals will show up to greet you-dolphins, California sea lions, and harbor seals may cruise by to say hello.

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Blue Skies, Blue Waters, Blue Whales…

Today we found blue skies, blue water and blue whales. Seas were extremely calm and sightings included: 3 giant blue whales and 75 long-beaked common dolphins.  Captain and crew ran across the Santa Barbara Channel towards Santa Cruz Island and searched the waters in between.

Not far outside Santa Barbara Harbor a small group of dolphins located the boat as we headed south towards the island.  The dolphins were heading east and we followed them as they came over and rode our stern, bow and side waves.

Continuing on course, our next encounter was several miles off the eastern end of the island with a single giant blue whale.  The whale had long down times but did show us its tail flukes which made the sighting very special.

A bit later two additional giants were located and we watched them for a while before they split up, one going east, the other heading west.  The clear blue water really made their blue bodies shine under the ocean surface.

On the way home a smaller group of dolphins was located in the commercial shipping lands and fun was had by all (human and dolphin alike).

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Blue Whales at Santa Cruz

Captain and crew headed for Santa Cruz Island today with moderately choppy seas.  Sighting included 2 giant blue whales and 200 long-beaked common dolphins.

About 5 miles due south of Santa Barbara Harbor during the morning departure a herd of dolphins located the Condor Express.  They rode our stern, side and bow waves.  A bit of surface feeding was observed.  Captain then continued on her southerly course heading for the middle of Santa Cruz Island.

South of the southbound shipping lane, en route to Prisoner’s Harbor, a pair of giant blue whales was located.  Their very tall spouts could be seen at quite a far distance.  The giants were very cooperative and we were able to stay in their vicinity and get great looks even though things were a bit choppy.

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