January Monthly Report

Brandt's Cormorants, Anacapa Island

Things have turned around from a rather slow November/December with some seasonal turnover in the SB Channel. Gray Whales are pushing south again on their yearly migration to Mexican waters. Fin and Humpback whales have been seen in low numbers suggesting that at least a few are lingering in our area. Orca have been spotted too, this is generally a good time to year to look for them as they tend to shadow the migration of the Gray Whales hoping to perhaps pick off a vulnerable calf like the one seen below.

Gray Whale Tail

Gray Whale Calf (note the smooth dark skin, and evidence of a fetal fold just behind the blow hole)

Gray Whales "try" to time their births so the coincide with their arrival in the sheltered lagoons of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Sometimes things are a little early and the calf may be born on the south bound migration leaving them vulnerable to predation from Orca. I have personally only witnessed Orca attacking Gray Whales once. It was three vs. three and the adult Gray Whales put up enough of a fight that the Orca moved on eventually and found some Common Dolphin to harass instead.


Those of you familiar with Scorpion Ranch, Santa Cruz Island will recognized the background in the photo of an adult male and female Orca (CA-51 pod consisting of four individuals). They blasted through a large pod of Common Dolphin near Scorpion Rock and then slowly cruised along the shore of the island. As one can see, they were very close to shore as they swam by this popular area to kayak and snorkel.

Northern Sea Lion or Stellar's Sea Lion

This individual looks pretty beat up. Note the numerous wounds along the upper appendage and chest. This a rather "small" individual, perhaps a female, the males can get enormous, around 10ft long and weighing in at nearly 2,500 lbs. We tend to get a few Stellar's Sea Lions each year, usually near the Ventura Harbor and the east end of Anacapa Island (where this picture was taken). This is thought to be the extent of their southern range, and I would be curious to know if anyone has seen them further south than Anacapa Island? Perhaps they show up with regularity on the southern islands of San Nicolas and San Clemente too.

Northern Elephant Seal with California Sea Lions and Western Gulls

This big'ol bag of blubber was seen sleeping with the much smaller California Sea Lions. This appears to be a male Northern Elephant Seal. These guys are even larger than the Stellar's Sea Lion above, and can grow to lengths of 16ft and some of the larger brutes can weigh more that 8,000 lbs! Typically this species is more numerous on the outer islands like San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara Islands.

American Oystercatcher

Anacapa Island has long been a good spot in southern California to find an American Oystercatcher and this bright bird continued the trend. It was seen along the north shore of the Island on one of the Island Packers wildlife tours.

"Great" White Shark

This steely eyed beast was seen swimming only one mile from the mainland near a popular surfing beach near the Santa Clara River. In the past few years sightings of young sharks, generally less than 8ft long, have increased dramatically. This young pup was maybe around 6 feet long and swam right under the boat. One can see how calm and clear the water was. This photo was shot from the upper deck of the boat looking almost straight down on it as it emerged from under our bow. These smaller White Sharks tend to stay in shallow coastal waters eating fish like rays that prefer the sandy bottom. Once they get around 8-10 ft in length they switch to a more marine mammal based diet and it is thought that they move north around point Conception or perhaps out to the Channel Islands.

Red-necked Grebe

This Red-necked Grebe was seen for at least one day near the Prisoner's Harbor Pier on Santa Cruz Island. We missed it on the Christmas Bird Count conducted on January 3rd.

The 2018 Christmas Bird Count went well though. I took a group of birders on the Island Packers boat along the north shore of the island and we tallied a few birds that are a challenge to get out there any other way. We saw quite a few birds but highlights included, Bald Eagles, hundreds of Black-vented shearwaters, quite a few Cassin's Auklets, and one Wander Tattler that blended into the intertidal area quite well.

Black-vented Shearwater

Cassin's Auklet

There were some notable sightings near the mainland coast too. While running up the beach on a whale watch, I noted a few large groups of Scoters. I took the boat in for a closer look and snapped off some photos, and returned the next day to pick through the flock at my leisure. In a group of hundreds of Surf Scoters I found a few Black Scoters, White-winged Scoter, a Long-tailed Duck, and a strange all white Albino Surf Scoter.

Clockwise from upper left: Albino Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, (male) White-winged Scoter front and center with Surf Scoters, (female) Black Scoter in middle of Surf Scoters

Water Spout over the Oxnard coast

The weather this winter is off to a wet start with some big waves and strong winds but in between the storms we have had some amazingly warm and calm days. In a few more weeks the first few spring migrants and returning nesters will start trickling into the Santa Barbara Channel and we hope to meet up with them as their numbers fill out in March. The March Pelagic/Scrub-Jay trip has been fully booked so if you are interested you will have to be added to the waiting list. Our summer and fall trips are bookable so get on it now before it is too late!


The Ocean...The Last Frontier

© 2016 by Joel Barrett

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