Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 5:36 pm | Fair 66º


Captain’s Log: Happy Humpies and Anxious Anchovies

We’ve got some really happy humpback whales here along the coast, and that makes for some very anxious anchovies because they can’t find a place to hide.

We go through periods of feast and famine when it comes to anchovies and also with sardines. It is natural and has always been this way. Generally, at least one of these two basic forage species is plentiful; however, on occasion both species are in a downturn. That’s what we have been living through for about half a year.

Then a few months ago, a major recruitment of anchovies occurred and we have been seeing huge baitballs of very small anchovies. We cautiously waited until they were big enough before taking a little bit for bait. It seems that they are now big enough for all the hungry critters out there to dive right in (pun intended) and scarf up some ‘chovies.

Prime among all of those foragers is the humpback whale.

I recall one day last week when I took a charter group on a local fishing trip between Santa Barbara and La Conchita, we saw four humpies and many hundreds of dolphin, all doing the same thing — chomping ‘chovies. The fish are doing it, too, and I’ve been metering (using my sonar fishfinder) plenty of big fish working the bottom of large baitballs of anchovies.

We cruised along, watching all around and hooted when the surface of the sea erupted as a hundred anchovies jumped clear of the water to elude a predator on their collective tail. It gets wild out there when the food chain rattles.

Then we would see fish crash on the surface, dolphins herding and feeding on the anchovies, and then all of a sudden the sea would explode as a humpback whale blasted through the surface with a monstrous mouthful of anchovies.

We joined in and caught some fish. But looking back and after checking with my passengers, I can safely say that what everyone really remembers is how the predators went into action and killed what they needed as efficiently as possible. Watching those predators at work is amazing.

— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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