Outdoors, action, adventure

« Previous Post | Outposts Home | Next Post »

Humpback whales off Santa Barbara are big on people watching

August 21, 2009 |  9:11 am

If you appreciate marine mammals and you have not taken a trip this summer aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara, you're missing out.

Not only are majestic blue and gregarious humpback whales concentrated in the same area in the outer channel, some of the humpbacks seem to truly enjoy the company of the vessel's passengers.

In fact, veteran Capt. Mat Curto is sure of it.

"They just want to be friendly with the boat," he says. They will stay with you up to two hours at a time, circling the boat, looking up at you while they turn on their side.

Humpback whales mingle with passengers aboard the Condor Express.

"They have a real big interest in whale watchers and I seem to find that the more the whale watchers react to the whale, the more the whale will react to the whale watchers. If you get people clapping and yelling and whistling and cheering for the whale, the whale just feeds off of it."

I was aboard last week and all of this happened. We had as many as five humpbacks circling and diving under the boat. Some slapped pectoral fins on the water. At one point three humpback whales, including a juvenile, dived under the boat after a close approach, surfaced on the other side, then revealed their tail flukes in unison.

Humpback whales mingle with passengers aboard the Condor Express.

In fact, after our first encounter with the whales we never spent more than a minute without seeing some type of whale (fin whales were in the area, too).

One passenger called it "an abundance of riches."

The show was so long-lasting and entertaining -- we received a dolphin escort at the outset of the voyage -- that not one of the 100 passengers was overcome with seasickness.

Of course, not all days are as calm as the one we enjoyed, and not all days have been as magical as the kind we enjoyed.

But the Condor Express, a high-speed jet boat that is the only vessel offering daily trips to the area,  boasts a 100% sighting rate since early May. You just don't get that during the Pacific gray whale migration each winter and spring. This is lesser-known, but a far more enjoyable experience.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Humpback whales mingle with passengers aboard the Condor Express. Credit: Pete Thomas / Los Angeles Times

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter visit @latimesoutposts.com