April 2017 Whale Watching in Monterey Bay
April has been incredible so far! Upwelling is in full swing and the temperature of the bay has dropped. Here’s a list of cetaceans we’ve seen so far this month: humpback whales, gray whales, minke whales, killer whales, harbor porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, long-beaked common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins! Other amazing sightings have included Mola molas, Velella velellas (by-the-wind sailors), blue sharks, a basking shark, and a tufted puffin!
The humpback numbers in the area are on the rise and they’re spread out all across the bay. We’ve seen them surface lunge-feeding for anchovies, getting friendly with the boat, and breaching! The humpbacks nearshore Moss Landing seem to be feeding on mostly anchovies while the humpbacks further out are filling their bellies with krill.
We’ve spotted a juvenile minke whale 3 times so far this month and suspect it’s been the same individual each time. Minkes are a small baleen whale, usually ~25 feet when they’re full grown. While we were on a trip and stopped in neutral waiting to see where two friendly humpback whales were going to surface, the minke whale popped up 5 feet from our boat and continued to circle and pass underneath the boat.
As for dolphins, we’ve seen quite a few different species this month but most pods have been far offshore. We had an amazing trip a couple weeks ago with thousands of Pacific white-sided dolphins with northern right whale dolphins mixed in. One of our favorite moments with the pod was observing a spyhopping northern right whale dolphin. Spyhopping is a behavior cetaceans presumably use to take a look around at the surface – it seemed like it was looking right at us!
And right on schedule, the killer whale sightings have significantly increased this past week. Transient killer whales hunt marine mammals; and this time of year gray whale mothers with their new calves are returning from Baja California and are heading north to Alaska for the summer. The killer whales time the gray whales’ migration and often hunt the calves in Monterey Bay. The topography of this area makes for an ideal hunting situation as the gray whales often choose to stray from their safe route nearshore and take the short cut across the bay over the deep water canyon — where the killer whales are looking for them. While we haven’t observed an attack, we’ve observed the killer whales feeding on 3 different gray whale calves on different days and in different locations. Gray whale cow/calf pairs are expected to continue passing through Monterey Bay until mid-May, so chances are high for more killer whale sightings through May.