More Wind Means More Whales

A pair of humpbacks feeding surrounded by sooty shearwaters and a gull or two.

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.

A blue whale feeding off Point Pinos, a few miles west of Monterey.

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.

A pair of brown pelicans soar over thousands of sooty shearwaters feeding on krill and the small fish eating the krill in Monterey Bay.

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 spend most of their time way down the water column, but at times come to the surface, here they are jumping out of the water, most likely to get away from the boat.

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.

An individual krill, which I am told taste like shrimp, the biggest ones we see are just over an inch. They would be hard to grill, and some people eat them sushi style…

Krill are in the shrimp family, as you can clearly see in this image.


About westcoastwilds

This site is meant to share the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and educate people about mankind's stewardship obligations now that we have complete control of the planet. To date we've made a mess of it, but there is still hope.
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