Sailboat racers, windsurfers and those of us who appreciate marine life in Northern California welcome our seasonal northwest winds, they can start as early as April but more typically in May. Their arrival signals the start of our ocean upwelling season, and the end of our winter rains. Their ferocity, timing, pattern and duration largely determine how productive our ocean will be in a given year.
Last year we had weak winds and very little upwelling, and many of the transient populations of marine mammals who usually spend their summers with us searched elsewhere for food.
The start of this year’s upwelling season has been a completely different story. The northwest winds have been strong and cyclical, providing our near-shore environment with sustained upwelling of cold nutrient rich water, and Northern California’s ocean is awash in life, starting with krill and the pelagic nutrients they eat then all the way up to the largest creature the planet has known, the blue whale.
On Sunday over 100 humpbacks were feeding in Monterey Bay, joined by a few blues who were also lunging through the vast schools of krill.
Krill were at the surface in concentrations so thick they darkened vast stretches of the bay, and whales swam back and forth at the surface lunging through the thick clouds, impervious to the boatloads of amazed visitors witnessing the spectacle. Seabirds carpeted the area; sooty shearwaters by the thousands, gulls, and brown pelicans too. It was suggestive of bay conditions reported by California’s first European visitors, before whale and fish populations were reduced to single digit percentages, where they now hover.
Krill are in the shrimp family, as you can clearly see in this image.