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.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >