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Captain’s Log: Get Out and Enjoy a Whale of an Opportunity

Whale watching in the Santa Barbara Channel is on now. Don't let the opportunity slip by to see big blue.

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Now’s the time of year for whale watching off the Santa Barbara Channel. Only about 15 percent of a whale rises out of the water when it surfaces to take a few breaths. After its last big breath, a whale might “fluke,” putting its tail in the air. (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

It is on! The big blue whales have shown up in solid numbers, humpback whales are acting like kids throughout the Santa Barbara Channel and a few other species pop up here and there. Add whale watching to your list of fun things to do this week and through August. Last year, many of the blues stayed around into autumn, but it is wise to visit them now while we know for sure they are here.

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Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
There is a profound sense of adventure when boarding a boat to run 30 miles out to sea in search of the biggest animal ever to have lived on Earth. A steep escarpment off of the front (north) side of Santa Rosa Island is the most common place to view “big blue.”

When a broad and longback rises from the surface — presaged by a mountainous “whoosh” from the blow hole — the size and power of the animal is stunning. Then comes the realization that only about 15 percent of the animal rose above the surface. These critters are immense, and they will hand you a humbling experience. Most of us need a humbling experience now and then.

We have so many whales to watch. Along with the blues, we are seeing humpback whales, which are even more show-off by nature than the blues. Humpies will breach much more often than the blues, and are generally a bit friendlier.

Every once in awhile a blue whale will get curious and friendly. When it does, it may swim right up to the boat and roll partway over to gaze at the people. Occasionally, a blue whale will hang around a boat for 10 to 15 minutes and sort of adopt everyone.

Most sightings, however, are of spouts and backs as they surface while traveling, take a few breaths and then slip back beneath the surface for another several minutes and sometimes much longer. They tend to “fluke” after their last big breath, putting that big tail in the air for a grand photo opportunity.

While out there, we also see dolphins — hundreds and sometimes even thousands. I just have to cheer when I scan the vicinity and see a half-mile of water erupting in jumping dolphin. For every one above water, there are about 10 more under the surface.

Dolphins are my personal favorite critters, and I think they know it, considering the way they rush in to play on the bow waves and stern wakes of my boat.

Dolphins are around all year. The whales are here now, so it is high time to get on out there and enjoy this whale of an opportunity.

We are fortunate to have a variety of whale-watching boats available. Sea Landing/Truth Aquatics runs the Condor Express. Captain Don’s runs the Speed Twin, and the Sail Center runs the Double Dolphin. Private charter boats (including my WaveWalker) are available for folks who prefer having a boat for their own group and maybe want to mix things up a bit by combining some fishing or maybe bird watching with whale watching.

It is nice to have options.

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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