Saturday Sept. 14, 2002
Our 75' vessel the Seawolf II got underway at 7:30 in the am. The fog was quite thick and remained so into the early afternoon making for less than ideal conditions for seabirding. Seas were Beaufort 4 and we also had to contend with some winds from the NW. Ah, but we made the most of it with a great group of folks on board. A nice mix of locals, many of high caliber and out of staters.
You can always tell the folks from out of the area by the excitement generated by the presence of a pair of SURFBIRDS foraging along the Coast Guard jetty. Here we also had BLACK TURNSTONES, ELEGANT TERNS and the expected gull species. On our way out along Cannery Row we had our first COMMON MURRES, RHINOCEROS AUKLETS and a few PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and RED-NECKED PHALAROPES.
Passing Pt. Pinos we started seeing our first of 7,300 SOOTY SHEARWATERS and soon we were seeing many PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS as well. Thanks to the diligent chumming by Jonathan Carpenter and Erin McDonald, interns at the Big Sur Ornithology Lab, we had a contingent of gulls following our wake, which in turn attracted BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS -- we saw 25 during the day. COMMON TERNS passed by the boat numerous times but only one ARCTIC TERN was seen over a large group of PACIFIC-WHITE SIDED DOLPHINS who upstaged the birds with some high flying gymnastic maneuvers. One was very impressive, linking a number of complete head-over-tail flips. Don Roberson awarded him a 7.5, claiming that his reentry into the water could have been a bit cleaner. There were also a good number of NORTHERN RIGHT WHALE DOLPHINS in this group that joined the others in riding our bow. One of these preferred to do so upside down, revealing his tuxedoed appearance, and another would leap over him. It was quite a thrill to watch them from a few feet above at the bow looking right down into their blowholes.
More marine mammal excitement ensued when our skipper Richard Ternullo spotted a group of BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALES! We could see their short round blows ahead of us but they dove before we could get any really good looks.
A few PARASITIC JAEGERS paid us a visit but only a single dark morph POMARINE JAEGER. Passing into Santa Cruz county waters we came upon thousands of Sootys. A call came in on the radio to tell us of the presence of a group of KILLER WHALES (ORCAS) feeding on a CALIFORNIA SEA LION. En route we found our bird of the day--a single brilliant TUFTED PUFFIN (good spot, Jay Withgott!)
A single SABINE'S GULL was seen in the distance in stark contrast to the flocks seen a month earlier. There were three other boats present when we arrived at the Killer Whale banquet. Richard identified this pod of f ive as the Friendly Pod by the distinctive notch in the young male's dorsal fin. They have been dubbed friendly because they are known to approach people in inflatable boats and sometimes like to ride the bow wake. Conversely they have also been documented killing a Gray Whale.
The highlight of our day in my book was when two female Orcas appeared just below the surface at the bow and we could see the seal carcass in both of their mouths. I mean they were right there! We spent a fair amount of time with this pod and everyone on board was pretty thrilled.
Back to birds, we had our first of 6 BULLER'S SHEARWATERS and a lone COMMON LOON. About then I remarked to Richard that I was surprised we hadn't seen any larger whales and as if on cue a BLUE WHALE blew and we ended up seeing three. Curiously we saw no Humpbacks whereas nearly 30 had been seen the previous weekend. RISSO'S DOLPHINS were also seen but only a few.
On the way back in we had about 6 of those shy little CASSIN'S AUKLETS on the water then quickly flying away.
Thanks to all on board for a great trip and special thanks to our leaders Don Roberson, Stephen Bailey and Craig Hohenberger.
Our next outings will be on Oct. 13 and 20. Hope to see you out there.
Roger Wolfe for Monterey Bay Whale Watch