Thar she blows!

Let’s just get this out of the way: I live in a paradise of natural beauty. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I get to call this gorgeous place my home. However did I get so lucky?

Case in point. For the last week or so a juvenile humpback whale has been hanging out in a small cove right off the road that winds along the coast in Santa Cruz. Several of my friends had shown me pictures and video of it, but every time I went out I got skunked. I saw lots of seabirds, though, and that itself was pretty amazing.

Mitchell's Cove in Santa Cruz, CA. 16 September 2015 © Allison J. Gong

Mitchell’s Cove in Santa Cruz, CA.
16 September 2015
© Allison J. Gong

Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) and Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) plunge-diving? Check. Common murres (Uria aalge) in the air and hanging out on the surface of the water? Check. Attempted kleptoparasitism by a gull on a tern that had caught a fish? Check. That was really cool. Oddly, though, I didn’t see any sooty shearwaters today.

This past Saturday I went down to Mitchell’s Cove and saw some amazing seabird behavior. The pelicans and terns were both plunge-diving, and then being mobbed by gulls and other hangers-on every time they came up with a fish. And in the background there was an unending stream of shearwaters flying from right to left.

I love how the pelicans fly along above the surface, then fold their wings and transform into arrows before shooting into the water. Good thing they don’t have nostrils, isn’t it? The terns do the same thing. Through the binoculars I watched the terns looking down for prey before committing to a dive; from what I could see they almost always came up with a fish.

The aforementioned humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was putting on a show this morning for the local humans. I wandered down at about 08:45 on my way to the marine lab. There were about 40 people scattered on the beach and along the side of the road. I settled myself on a rock with my camera and binoculars at hand. It took only a couple of minutes to see this:

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge-feeding at Mitchell's Cove in Santa Cruz, CA. 16 September 2015 © Allison J. Gong

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge-feeding at Mitchell’s Cove in Santa Cruz, CA.
16 September 2015
© Allison J. Gong

Judging by size, this whale appears to be a juvenile. It was swimming just beyond the surf break, where the water was shallow enough that I could see the ripples just beneath the surface as the whale swam by. In this 2-minute video, the whale surfaces to breathe a few times and takes two lunging mouthfuls of fish and water before turning away and heading to slightly deeper water.

If I didn’t have an actual job to do, I could have stayed out there longer, just to keep observing all the action. As it was, my arrival at the marine lab was delayed by about 40 minutes. Oh well. But I didn’t have any time-crucial tasks or meetings this morning so nobody’s schedule was affected except my own, and if I can’t take advantage of serendipitous sightings like this then what’s the point of living in paradise?

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