09-16-2016: More Killer Whale Action in Front of Moss, Humpback Whales and Risso’s Dolphins
We are definitely settling into our Fall weather pattern. Warm and sunny with calm, smooth ocean conditions. All day long. And then there are animals. They seem to be coming closer to Moss Landing. At least that was the case this week. Including killer whales on several trips.
The humpbacks have still been scattered. But there have been a handful within a few miles of Moss Landing on some trips. Other trips they’ve been a little further out.
We have been seeing some occasional humpback surface lunging on anchovies. But the anchovies have also been scattered and not very dense. It’s nice to be out there photographing when it’s so calm. We’ll probably be doing some photo-tours coming up soon.
Let’s go sailing! We’re now offering naturalist led sailing tours aboard our luxury sailboat. She’s a 48′ Mariner ketch. She is a well-founded and well-equipped world cruising sailboat. Ask about our “Follow the Migration” tours coming up in October. This tour will take you on a multi-day journey departing from the Moss Landing Harbor to Santa Cruz Island off of Santa Barbara. Then to Santa Barbara for a relaxing coastal train ride back up to the Salinas train station and then ground transportation back to Moss Landing. This is tour is for the serious marine life adventurer. Also offering weekend tours from Channel Islands Harbor to Santa Cruz Island. Or just book a two hour tour out of Moss Landing.
09-15-16 Orcas hunting right outside Moss Landing Harbor today
These past two days have been magical out here on Monterey Bay for wildlife sightings. Yesterday we had hundreds of active Risso’s Dolphins surrounding the boat for most of the trip, humpback whales and a lone male Orca cruising along on calm, still waters with sunshine. Today we found a few humpbacks within a couple miles of Moss Landing, and then spotted a whole pod of Orcas hunting. They led us right back to Moss Landing where they hunting about for hours, giving really nice viewing and a close swim by to finish the day. The humpback breaching next to the boat really made a grand finale to an awesome day of sunshine and whales aboard Sanctuary Cruises!
09-11-2016: Humpbacks Starting to Move Closer to Moss Landing, Anchovies Start to Show Up
We’re well into our Fall weather pattern. The conditions have been generally good. We’ve still been having some overcast days, so that’s not so great. But the marine conditions have been calm and great for getting out on The Bay. So that’s always nice.
We’ve also had great orca sightings over the last week or so. The humpbacks have been going strong. There have also been blue whales and fin whales further out.
More anchovies have showed up just outside of the Moss Landing Harbor. I’ve been seeing a lot of surface feeding action going on just outside off the beach. Birds, sea lions, harbor seals.
So hopefully the humpbacks will join in on the action as we get more into the Fall season.
07-07-2016: More Killer Whales Show Up, Humpbacks Close to Moss Landing
The action continued today on our 09:00 AM trip. We came across a few humpbacks in the first 30 minutes. So that was nice. We had some nice tail fluke looks before we heard a report of orcas about five miles from our location. So we made a course and we’re on the scene within about 45 minutes. We pretty well stuck with these animals for the rest of the trip.
07-06-2016: Summer Action Heats up Two Miles Outside of Moss Landing
It’s been hit or miss over the last few weeks. We’ve also been hit by strong afternoon winds. So we’ve had to cancel a lot of afternoon trips. But it looks like all the wind and upwelling is starting to pay off. After a slow start to the late Spring and early Summer, the action really kicked into overdrive today.
I’ve mainly been working on the sailboat over the last few weeks, so I haven’t been getting out as much. We’ve had captain JJ running. So I haven’t been able to update the Captain’s Log for awhile. But I’m back now and plan on updating daily.
Excellent day today. We were on long-beaked common dolphins within about 10-15 minutes. Conditions were nice early on. That’s why we’ve pushed most of our 10:30 AM trips up to 09:00 AM. It gives us a better calm weather window to get out further if we need to. Because lately, we’ve needed to.
But today was a big change up. About 15-minutes after we left the common dolphins we saw some splashing on the horizon and what looked like a buoy. But we kept looking at the same area. We kept seeing something coming up and going down.
But it was bigger than a dorsal fin and smaller than lunge-feeding humpback. Our photographer / naturalist Chase thought it was an orca and I thought it was lunge-feeding humpback. Turns out Chase was right. I think it was spy hopping when we saw it in the distance.
As we got closer we were clearly on a single, large male orca. We’ve seen this animal before. It’s been frequenting the Monterey Bay over the last few days. We call him “fat fin” on account of the very wide base of his fin where it rises from it’s saddle.
We were as excited as can be. And it was staying up nicely and traveling slowly toward Moss Landing. And we knew there were dolphins in the area. So things were looking interesting.
Sure enough. This single male orca was making it’s way toward a small group of unsuspecting long-beaked common dolphins. Apparently it’s hard for a single male orca to take a common dolphin. We know he tried because these common dolphins took off in a high-speed stampede. But the orca didn’t seem to have been able to get any of them.
As we were tracking the orca, we came across a couple of humpbacks that were closer in to Moss Landing. So it’s feeling like the good ole days of last year. Close in cetaceans. After a while we had some reports of at least three more humpbacks another mile or two to the south. So we made a course for that location. It wasn’t long before this massive, full-size humpback whale launched itself completely out of the water just off our starboard forward quarter.
Then another one launched. Then they both launched. Very spectacular. Hopefully we’re just getting started and action will continue. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
05-29-2016: The Blue Whale Bonanza Continues, More Humpbacks Move in, Reports of Orcas to the South
What a difference a year makes. We definitely have had a change up in the cycle happening this year. The ocean life and the animals we find here can change or cycle out from year to year.
For example this year, we have had many storms and wind events followed by all day long sun for weeks at a time. These storms and wind events are what drives the productivity in our local system. Particularly the massive krill swarms. We didn’t have a lot krill in The Bay last year.
We also had a very mild Winter and Spring last year. Last year it was all about the anchovies. It was a full-on feeding frenzy with all the animals often feeding on surface anchovies right in the same area. Birds squacking and diving, sea lions yelping and whales blowing and popping their big heads out of the water as they do a vertical surface lunge.
Well that was last year. This year there are very few anchovies to be found. The whales seem to be feeding mostly on krill. That little shrimp-like crustacean. Krill is thought to be the main prey item for the mighty blue whale.
The massive abundance of krill close to mouth of the Monterey Bay is what is bringing a large number of blue whales here. We’ve been seeing at least 20+ blue whales in an area about 2-miles in diameter. At times it seems like there are more than that. It’s hard to count them when they start popping up all around. It’s truly a spectacular experience.
The blue whales are the largest animals to have ever roamed the earth. The largest blue whale ever recorded was 110′ long. That was down in Antarctica. Most of the blue whales we see here in the Monterey Bay are likely in the 80′-90′ range on the upper end. We’ve also been seeing more humpbacks moving in. Humpbacks are more versatile in what they eat. They eat krill and small schooling fish like anchovies, sardines and small herring.
The only thing that isn’t that great is that the big show is about eight to nine miles from port. So we have to run for just under an hour before we get to big show. We have been coming across the random humpback or two as we make our course for where the blue whales have been. They’ve been in the same area for the last week or so. Hopefully they’ll stay. Or maybe even more will show up. We never know. Early July used to be our best time for blue whales. So they did show up a little early. So we’ll go with it.
We did have to discontinue our two hour trips for now because the whales have been further out and two hours has not been long enough for a proper whale watching excursion if we want to see the blue whales. At least we don’t have to come as far as the boats coming from Monterey. They have to come more like 15 miles or more. Hopefully everything will start to move closer to Moss Landing. But in the meantime, we’re loving the incredible blue whale action.
05-23-2016: It’s All About the Blue Whales Today, Humpbacks Going Strong
Today we had blue whales in the Pajaro Hole. That’s straight northwest of the Moss Landing Harbor. We came across a few full-size animals. Had to be 80′ long. Nice conditions and scattered humpbacks most of the trip.
There is a lot krill in the Monterey Bay right now feeding this massive influx of baleen whales arriving from their winter migration.
Blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales are species we are likely to see when we have these massive krill swarms throughout the Monterey Bay. We also heard reports of more blue whales and killer whales further out.
05-22-2016: Blue Whales Show up In Large Numbers Throughout The Bay, Humpback Whales, Reports of Orcas, Dolphins
The weather has been a challenge over the last week or so. Between the thick fog and heavy winds, it hasn’t been all fun and games. But we’ve managed to find whales and dolphins on days that we’ve been able run.
The blue whales are in the Monterey Bay in numbers that we’ve haven’t seen for a few years.
We’ve been able to do most of our morning trips. But even some of the early morning trips have been canceled because of wind and steep swell.
For the most part we are pretty well into what we would consider a normal Spring weather cycle. That is, somewhat calm conditions in the morning and rough windy conditions in the afternoon.
But this windy weather is why we have blue whales in The Bay right now. Blue whales mainly feed on krill. All the wind we’ve been having has been good for productivity and has spawned some massive krill blooms.
05-07-2016: Blue Whales, Humpbacks, Common Dolphin and More
The Spring action is on. In fact, we’re starting to regularly see blue whales and fin whales now. Usually more of a Summer species. So we’re off to a great start. We are starting to see massive swarms of krill. More than we’ve seen in at least a few years. That’s also why we are starting to see more and more blue whales and fin whales.
We had two massive, easy watching blues feeding in the same area as a couple of humpbacks. We had some nice looks at these massive animals. Thought to be the largest animal that has ever roamed the earth. Second only to the fin whale.
And their main prey item is the abundant krill we have in the Monterey Bay. At least that is the case this year. Last year we had very little krill. This is mainly due to the wind patterns. We just didn’t get the strong northwesterly winds we normally get in the Spring.
This year we seem to be in what might be considered a normal cycle. That is heavy northwesterly winds for days and all day sun. That’s what drives our productivity in The Bay.
We’re also getting regular sightings of killer whales and expect this to continue into June. We heard reports of killer whales today, but they were about 18 miles out when we heard about them during the second part of our trip. Just. That’s almost a two hour run for us. Looks like the Spring action is in full-swing.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ll see what happens today. Stay tuned for the report from today.
03-30-2016: Killer Whales, Humpbacks, Common Dolphins, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Elephant Seal, Beautiful Marine Conditions
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.
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.
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.
03-18-2016: Lunge-feeding Humpbacks Right Out Front, 300-500 Common Dolphins
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.
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.
We’ll see what happens today. Check back later this evening for an update.
03-17-2016: Nice Marine Conditions, Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Common Dolphins and More
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.
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.
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.
02-07-2016: Humpbacks Return, Many Common Dolphins in The Bay, Warm and Glassy Conditions
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.
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.
02-05-2016: Nice Looks at a Trio of Gray Whales, 300-500 Common Dolphins, Warm Sunny Conditions
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.
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.
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.
02-03-2016: 30 Off-Shore Type Orcas, 500 Common Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins and More
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
12-28-2015: Humpbacks Feeding Right Out Front, Perfect Conditions
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.
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.
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.
11-29-2015 Greeted by a Breach!
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