Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 10:31 am | Overcast 61º


Captain’s Log: Whale Shark Encounter in Santa Barbara Channel

Passengers watch in awe as the massive animal emerges from the fog and glides by

The WaveWalker was cruising comfortably across the Santa Barbara Channel on a calm but foggy morning. Visibility was 100 feet at best, and I was scanning my instruments carefully — look at the radar, peer into the fog around us, check the compass to keep on course, peer into the fog around us, glance at the engine instruments to make certain all systems were normal, peer into the fog around us, note progress along our plot line on the GPS navigation device screen, peer into the fog around us. Boat skippers and aircraft pilots are rigorously trained to scan in a disciplined fashion.

Note that peering into the fog around us is the No. 1 priority? Yup, that’s what kept us from colliding with a huge whale shark (aka basking shark) while crossing the Santa Barbara Channel last week on our way to what turned out to be a day of stellar fishing for sheephead, lingcod and red snapper.

That big dorsal fin loomed up out of the fog dead ahead. It looked to be 4 feet tall and had that classic shape that unmistakably declared its species.

I spun the helm to starboard, throttled down and bellowed, “Hang on!” My startled passengers and crew were in for a whale-sized surprise. The boat spun around and came to a stop bow-to-nose with the biggest nonmammal found on the surface of the sea — big enough to win that battle, but gentle enough not to be aggressive. Had we bumped it and had it bolted, the story would have a much sadder ending.

What a magnificent critter! It looked to be half-again larger than the WaveWalker (which is 31 feet in length overall). The checkerboard or tic-tac-toe pattern on its back is mesmerizing. This critter has a way of making you believe that it hasn’t a care in the world. I doubt that’s true, but its casual and languorous moves seem cooler than James Dean leaning against the hood of a hot rod.

Being dead ahead of the massive critter didn’t seem wise or considerate, because straight ahead is its typical direction of movement, so I gently nudged the WaveWalker to one side so that we could watch one of nature’s greatest critters glide by. My passengers that day were an excitable lot — you should have seen their excitement while catching big sheephead to more than 20 pounds — yet while that whale shark swam by and disappeared into the fog, every one of them, as well as the crew, was stunned into awed silence.

Click here for more information about these fantastic critters.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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