Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 9:15 pm | Overcast 60º


Captain’s Log: Keep a Weather Eye Out for Grays in Area

Seafarers catching glimpses of season's first migrating gray whales.

Spotting my first gray whale of the season makes me behave like the kid that I really am inside. Oh, I may look like a salty ol’ sea captain, but inside my breast races the heart of an 8-year-old naturalist still finding awe in the critters of the sea. May it always be so.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
My first sighting was early this year … Nov. 24. I had a charter group happily catching sand bass, calico bass, chocolate bass, johnny bass and sheephead at an extremely productive spot off the coast of Carpinteria when I spotted a familiar spout of spray out of the corner of my eye. I whipped my head around fast enough to make my neck hurt for two days, but it was worth it. I instinctively bellowed, "Thar she blows!" That really is the only appropriate reaction for a sea captain, ya know. Enthusiasm is contagious and the passengers cheered wildly.

The biggest concentrations of these big gentle giants can be spotted as they shoot the gaps between our islands. My favorite viewing area is between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands. At this point they are past halfway in their long annual migration from the frigid waters of the north seas. Their destination is warm placid lagoons along the coast of Baja California and points farther south. They warm up, relax and make babies before heading back up the coast to the cold water feeding areas where they spend better than half the year.

Not every gray whale that weathers Point Conception plots a course for gaps between the Channel Islands. Many of them hug the coast, offering us wonderful whale-watching opportunities from shore and from nearshore whale watch cruises. We have good shoreside viewing areas including the vista turnout on southbound Highway 101 near the campgrounds up the coast, Campus Point at UCSB, Goleta Pier, Shoreline Park, Stearns Wharf, the bluffs of Summerland and below Carpinteria, the Rincon and Ventura Pier.

Watching gray whales from boats is fun because a cautious skipper can approach a whale while maintaining a respectable distance of 100 yards, giving passengers a close experience. A word of advice to private boaters: never cut across the path of a gray whale because doing so can disorient and aggravate the very large and powerful animal. True, grays are gentle by nature, but don’t push them too far or make them feel threatened.

Private boaters can launch out of the harbor or use the pier hoists at Goleta and Gaviota when they are open, which is most of the time. Many anxious whale watchers buy a ticket and go aboard one of the great open-party whalewatch boats operating out of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Channel Islands harbors. For a custom private adventure, charter a boat (like mine) for just your group. That way you can watch for whales and also perhaps try your hand at catching some of those good fish I mentioned earlier.

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

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