Every summer, Monterey Bay Whale Watch (MBWW) offers 12-hour extended trips about twice a month. These are often fully booked, so make reservations well in advance. Their primary focus is marine mammals, especially Beaked and Sperm Whales, multi-species feeding aggregations, and Killer Whales, so they should be better than similar (generally shorter) pelagic birding trips for mammal watchers.
Yesterday, I took one of these trips, primarily looking for offshore species. Prospects were looking good, with several sightings of small groups of Baird’s Beaked Whales on and off over the last several weeks, a Sperm Whale a few days ago, and Killer Whales earlier in the week. For the trip, the plan was to survey specific hotspots for Beaked Whales, so MBWW estimated my chances at around 25-30%. Unfortunately, I was informed that the water was too warm for Northern Right Whale Dolphins, another key target.
We started in Monterey harbor at 7:30 AM, with the usual hundreds of California Sea Lions, 4-5 Sea Otters, and 2 Harbor Seals. Traveling north along the coast, we looked for nearshore species, observing 4-5 Common Bottlenose Dolphins, but no Harbor Porpoise in an area where they were being consistently observed as of late. We then moved away from the coast, following the submarine canyon, where we saw about 15 Risso’s Dolphins and large herds of California Sea Lions. At this point, we started moving offshore, traveling over deeper areas of the canyon favored by beaked whales.
Our main target was an area where whale and dolphin feeding aggregations were reported. After unsuccessfully searching for beaked whales, we reached the site and found a total of about 40 Humpback Whales in several groups, hundreds of beautiful Pacific White-sided Dolphins, about a hundred Short-beaked Common Dolphins, and a Northern Fur Seal. After spending several hours in this area watching dolphins and whales, we began traveling back towards Monterey, passing over several beaked whale areas we had visited earlier in the day. After a bit of a dry spell, we saw 2 Fin Whales and soon after a Blue Whale, the first report of both species in months. Minutes after, the captain and naturalist spotted a streaked animal surface with a low, diffuse blow – probably a beaked whale. Everyone else, myself included, missed it. We spent half an hour in the area trying to refind it without success.
Returned to the harbor, things were quiet with some more Risso’s Dolphins, but none of the hoped-for Minke Whales around Point Pinos. We ended the day with 11 marine mammal species–a great trip! I will return for the remaining species next year…