Whale Watching from Moss Landing

Your intrepid adventurer after an Amazing day on the water!

The hubby and I, along with our friend Cat, planned a long weekend in Monterey to go whale watching and take Cat to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for her very first visit! Sadly, Scott picked up the office cold, so the whale watching run was just Cat and me – it was, as expected, amazing.

We drove down to Moss Landing, CA bright and early on Saturday for the first part of our adventure. In the past we’ve gone with crews that leave from Fisherman’s wharf in Monterey and those trips were amazing. I figured it would be interesting to try a different approach so this time we went out with Blue Ocean Whale Watch , who leave from Moss Landing.  

Why Moss Landing?

Beginning our whale watching tours from Moss Landing Harbor is a huge advantage compared to other ports in the bay because we’re closest to the start of the Monterey Submarine Canyon.

Monterey Bay attracts such a great quantity and variety of marine life because of the upwelling that draws the cold, nutrient-rich waters up from the submarine canyon.

It was super foggy for most of our trip with very calm waters which made it both easier and harder to photograph all the antics. That didnt stop me from taking over 500 pictures on my DSL alone. 🙂

The most amazing thing we got to see this time around was the collaborative feeding of a group of about 7 Humpbacks and easily a 100+ Sea Lions and gods only know how many birds. We spotted them about 15 minutes out of the harbor. According to the Naturalist on board, we were in 400 – 600 feet of water and their instrumentation were showing the bait ball of anchovies below us between 200 and 300 feet down. They estimated that the whales and sea lions were working together to herd the anchovies from one side or the other of the canyon, which is relatively narrow where we were, being so close to its start point just off of Moss Landing.

We spent maybe 45 minutes with them before moving on to see what else we could see. We did run into a few small groups including the mother and calf, and some of those groups appeared to hook up with, or at least feed near the large mixed group. Eventually we just made our way back to the big group and sat back to enjoy the show.

In reviewing my photos I noticed that, based on my camera’s time stamps, the feedings had a very regular cycle. And you could Always tell when a round was starting. The water would be still and calm, with a small collection of birds resting on the surface then there would be this sound that was movement made auditory- water churning up and the birds squawking, taking flight to get out of the way of the Sea Lions who would come bounding up out of the water, leapfrogging over and around one another, all going in generally the same direction. And then the puff/huff of a whale blowing air out of its blow hole, then more of those as the whales all surfaced within or just outside the circle of Sea Lions. It would get a little calmer once everyone was up at the surface, just the movement of water around the whales and huffs of air as if they were commenting on things. Then one by one the whales would make their dives, the sea lions would follow them down and everything would go still. Then about ten minutes later the whole thing would begin again. The total time topside was three to four minutes.

Humpback whale among excited sea lions
humpacks at the surface with sealions and birds
two humpbacks arching, preparing to dive
dive in process
almost gone…
only sealions leaping with birds diving for scraps

We spent most of the trip following this band of humpbacks and sea lions in their hunting and feeding. Each surfacing was a little different: position of the boat in relation to the pack, location of the sun, amount of cloud cover and/or fog complicating the shots.

During one surfacing the whales were much kinder with their show of tails resulting in a number of fluke shots. These photos are incredibly important because the patterns of skin coloration and scaring on the underside of the tail fluke are as good as fingerprints for identifying individual whales. There are enormous databases that have been built over the years for all the known populations of humpbacks on the planet. And there is a website that people can add photos and sighting information to and expanding the available information for scientists. I know I have duplicate sightings since we were watching the same 7 or 8 whales all morning, so once I sort out who I have pictures of I can upload them to the website and get to help out!

Another cool thing we got to see was a spyhopping whale. This happened during one of the rounds of cooperative feeding.

“When spyhopping, the whale rises and holds a vertical position partially out of the water, often exposing its entire rostrum and head. It is visually akin to a human treading water. Spyhopping is controlled and slow, and can last for minutes at a time if the whale is sufficiently inquisitive about whatever it is viewing. Generally, the whale does not appear to swim by fluke propulsion to maintain its “elevated” position while spyhopping, instead relying on exceptional buoyancy control and positioning with pectoral fins. Typically the whale’s eyes will be slightly above or below the surface of the water, enabling it to see whatever is nearby on the surface.[30] The great white shark and oceanic whitetip shark have also been known to spyhop.[31]

– Wikipedia

And a few of my favorite shots just because they are cool looking

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