Monterey Seabirds
January 27, 2008 Seabird Cruise Trip Report


Sunday January 27, 2008   3 hour tour - 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

I once asked one of the whale watch skippers out of Monterey what weather forecasting he thought was best. His words were, "If I paid attention to the weather reports I'd never go to work."

The more I read weather forecasts the more skeptical I become of their accuracy, enough said.

The weather according to the prognosticators looked bad. I got calls and emails wondering if the trip was going to be cancelled. Some folks just cancelled, others just didn't show up.

I heard the wind gust throughout the night but on the drive down to Monterey the wind appeared to be laying down. The forecast rain and wind were absent. Go figure.

Leaving the harbor at 7 am we found a male HARLEQUIN DUCK next to the bell buoy. The seas were moderate and we were out of the wind as long as we stayed inside the bay. Moving along we were finding lots of WESTERN and EARED GREBES but only a single HORNED GREBE. There were both COMMON and PACIFIC LOONS. A few RED PHALAROPES scattered about.

At the back of the boat Todd Easterla was dispensing the popcorn off the stern and attracting a nice variety of gulls. A MEW GULL was a bit of a surprise and a few THAYER'S and BONAPARTE'S GULLS were fun to see. In total we ended up with 8 gull species for the day.

Short-tailed Shearwater, photo by Don RobersonRather than doing the typical 3-hour whale watch route out past Pt. Pinos we headed for the edge of the Monterey Sea Canyon in the heart of the bay. From a distance there appeared to be quite a bit of bird activity but we weren't sure why. As we grew closer a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER came in to investigate why the gulls were following us. Right away we found a second STSH; we tallied 3 for the day.

Blows off the bow called our attention to three GRAY WHALES crossing the bay en route to Mexico. We stumble across a bottling ELEPHANT SEAL bobbing at the surface.

We had seen several COMMON MURRES and as we moved over the canyon we began seeing lots of RHINOCEROS AUKLETS and in their midst a single BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER. Off of the stern Todd called out PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER, but wait, there are two!

Southern Resident Killer Whale, photo by Don RobersonWe are trying to figure out what is attracting all the gulls to the area when we spot some marine mammals. We turn in that direction and come upon a large pod of KILLER WHALES! They seem to be spread out all over but one group of a dozen or so comes in quite close to our boat, and when they do Richard gets a good look at their saddle patches, which indicate that they are SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES. We estimate there are almost 40 of them.

This is only the fourth time that this type of Killer Whale has been seen in the Monterey Bay. These are from one of the pods most commonly seen in the Puget Sound area in the summer and fall. They are 1,000 miles outside their normal range.

Monterey Killer Whale researcher Nancy Black has written:

"Killer whale populations are not all the same. In the eastern North Pacific there are three distinct types, 'residents', 'transients', and 'offshores'. Each population is genetically distinct, specializes on different prey, exhibits different social and association patterns, has different vocal dialects, and frequents or travels different areas, some overlapping.

  • The 'residents' usually are found over a limited area and have the tightest social structure of any marine mammal, living in close-knit family groups. These whales feed mainly on fish and can be very vocal. This whale type was thought to reside only in the Pacific Northwest from Washington to Alaska.

  • The 'transient' type of killer whale is truly a top predator, consuming mostly marine mammals, from seals to large baleen whales. This type covers long distances, often travels in small groups, and is relatively quiet vocally.

  • The 'offshores' are a lesser-known group, traveling long distances in large groups (often 50 or more) and probably feeding on fish and squid.

The trained observer at sea can distinguish all these types by size, markings, and behavior."

See entire article at:

Southern Resident Killer Whales, photo by Don Roberson

See live action of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in a video taken by Roger Wolfe.

Typically in Monterey Bay waters we see "transient type" Killer Whales.

Everyone on board is thrilled by this unusual sighting.

As we head for home, approaching the jetty we see a single wintering PIGEON GUILLEMOT. On our way back to our own dock we find a MARBLED MURRELET just inside the jetty and a pair of HARLEQUIN DUCKS.

Our second cruise of the day, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., was led by Tim Amaral. On this cruise they found the Resident Killer Whales again and also saw 2 PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS. Other than that it was the usual suspects.

Roger Wolfe for Monterey Seabirds


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Last updated January 28, 2008