Friday, February 23 , 2018, 2:27 pm | Fair 60º

 
 
 
 

Captain’s Log: Humpbacks and the Art of Eating

The captain shares another whale's tale about the sheer wonder of watching the huge mammals feed

It is late May and I seem to be in a mood to tell whale stories. You mind? Here’s one that I’ll always remember …

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

One hundred yards off our starboard bow, an adult humpback whale breached with enough force to resemble a depth charge detonation. As it leaned over and came down with a thunderous splash, it closed its mouth to trap its lunch.

We were cruising westward at 25 knots between the west end of Santa Cruz Island and the northeastern point of Santa Rosa Island in 150 feet of clean water. A pod of “humpies” were driving a massive school of sardines up to the shallows where the whales could work as a team to keep the forage food corralled into a tight baitball a half-acre across.

We slowed to watch the precise savagery of the natural food chain from a respectable and safe distance. After all, it is unwise to ruin the lunch of a critter that outweighs us by a few dozen tons!

One of my passengers requested permission to jump in the water so he could film the spectacle. The cautious captain in me declined his request. I told him this particular feeding activity was likely to attract some of the large sharks in the area. I reminded him that he would remain at the very top of the food chain — as long as he stayed aboard the boat.

With that thought, everyone peered furtively at the water around the boat, looking for that familiar phantom shape of a shark. The next whale to breach took our minds off sharks entirely. A smaller whale leaped nearly out of the water with the sheer exuberance of youth. My passengers were cheering wildly. Heck, I was, too. Show me someone who can’t cheer at that and I might have to scuttle the scalawag.

We watched for a half-hour as the whales methodically balled-up the bait and took turns making feeding passes through the baitball with mouths wide open. As they lunged partway out of the water and closed their mouths to strain out the water and keep the fish, I estimated that with each mouthful, a whale caught more baitfish than I use in a month of summertime fishing. It takes a lot of groceries to fill up a hungry humpy.

Over the next months, we have our most fascinating whale-watching opportunities of the year as humpbacks, blues and other whales join the thousands of dolphin in the Santa Barbara Channel to put on a whale of a show for us. Plan your excursions early and bring the whole family out for a wild adventure. There are a number of whale-watching boats operating out of Santa Barbara.

Anyone have any good local whale tales? Post a comment and let’s share!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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