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Humpback whales anything but shy off Santa Barbara

June 4, 2009 |  9:11 am

A breaching humpback.

Capt. Mat Curto of the Condor Express said he has had difficulty this past week reaching the blue whales far into the Santa Barbara Channel — but only because the humpback whales won't let him get beyond about six miles from port.

As many as nine humpbacks, including three calves, have been intercepting the 88-foot vessel and putting on a close-quarters show that has left passengers spellbound.

"We can't even sneak by them," says Curto, whose trips depart daily at 10 a.m. from Sea Landing in Santa Barbara "They've been breaching, pec-slapping ... at one point we had three calves in the air at the same time."

That's a young humpback breaching in the accompanying photo, snapped by Brian Kot last Saturday during a "Humpback Adventure" excursion hosted by the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles chapter.

This is a remarkable time of year in the Santa Barbara Channel. The seasonal presence of playful humpbacks and gargantuan blues — which should remain through most of  the summer — is unknown to many Southern California residents.

The Condor Express and Island Packers out of Ventura and Oxnard offer the best means by which to view the great leviathans (fast boats). And there seems to be a small pod of humpbacks that eagerly awaits your presence.

— Pete Thomas

Photo: A breaching humpback. Credit: Brian Kot