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Magical times for whale-watchers in Santa Barbara Channel

August 12, 2009 |  8:51 am

A blue whale fills its gaping mouth with krill.

Blue whales lunged across the surface with mouths fully agape, not wanting to miss one tender morsel of krill (they can consume 8,000 pounds of the shrimp-like critters per day).

Humpback whales swarmed the 88-foot vessel, as if craving attention. Sea lions barked and leaped, likewise wanting to be recognized, but they were essentially ignored because the larger mammals were stars of this show.

It played out on a gray Tuesday before about 100 passengers aboard  the Condor Express, which runs from Santa Barbara and plies the outer portions of that city's namesake channel. 

I'll write a larger story on this remarkable congregation of great (and endangered) leviathans, to run, hopefully, next week in the newspaper and on the website. But meanwhile I'd like to suggest to those who read Outposts, if they're interested in marine mammals, that they might wish to book one of these once-in-a-lifetime adventures at their earliest opportunity. (The Condor Express is closest to the whale congregation and usually the only vessel there.)

What's making this season so magical is the abundance and density of krill, especially when the krill rise to the surface, because that affords an opportunity for whale-watchers to witness lunge-feeding and other surface-feeding behavior.

A humpback whale reveals its fluke for passengers aboard the Condor Express.

In all, we had about 15 blue whales and 20 humpbacks surrounding the vessel. We could see them in every direction. At one point we had five humpbacks milling around the boat, revealing their tail flukes and blowing plumes of stinky whale-breath into our faces.

I'll save the rest for the larger story, but here's some basic information: Trips cost $94 ($50 for children) and run daily from Sea Landing from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and include an up-close inspection of Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island.

There is no guarantee you'll see whales but Capt. Mat Curto boasts a 100% success rate since early May. The blue whales should remain in the vicinity into October.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: A blue whale fills its gaping mouth with krill (top), while a humpback whale reveals its fluke (bottom) for passengers aboard the Condor Express. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

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