Tag Archives: whales

Flying Over Humpbacks

I saw this news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning talking about how active the humpback whales have been near shore off of Santa Cruz and Aptos these past few weeks.  So Darlene and I grabbed the drone and dashed down to Seacliff State Beach.  I’ve been wanting to try flying the drone to get nice, aerial views of the whales.  (A lot of the coastline is protected via the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but flying in this area is allowed.)

There were probably a dozen of them near shore – you could see them popping up every which way!  The lighting wasn’t great (completely overcast) as the marine layer had yet to burn off but it was still very fun to hang around with the drone waiting for them to appear.

It’s quite the challenge to find them and stay with them using the narrow view of the drone’s camera – even when you can easily see them from shore.  Darlene was helping by watching the feed with the goggles because it’s also hard to see small/distant details on the iPhone or iPad screen, particularly when you’re outside. It’s much easier to see with the goggles but then of course all you can see is what the drone sees.

It was hard tracking them too because once they go under it’s hard to predict where to be looking when they come back up. You want to get closer for more detail but if you’re too close you won’t see them at all when they resurface off camera (which happened repeatedly) – and of course not so close as to harass them.  I should point out that the limited view angle of the drone’s camera makes them appear closer than they really are and yet I still had to heavily crop every one of these clips to make the whales appear large enough in the frame – even in the most distant shots.

I did put a polarizer on the drone camera to try to cut through the reflection of the water surface but it didn’t work that well with the diffuse overcast light so it might work better in directed sunlight.

Need more practice! ;-)

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A Gray Whale Threesome

Darlene and her mom and I took a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz on March 23rd with Stagnaro Charters.  (I didn’t know whale tours were available out of town here in Santa Cruz – super convenient as opposed to driving down to Monterey.)  We were very lucky to get to first come across a threesome of gray whales in the midst of their courtship/mating – something that apparently gray whales do in groups of three or more:

What appears to be mating, however, is simply an elaborate courtship in which two males can be seen attempting to mate with a female.

Christopher Fitzsimmons, an education specialist at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explained that mating in pods of three, with two males and a female, is entirely common among gray whales.

“This rolling and rubbing we see is believed to be the whales familiarizing themselves with one another and making sure the female is receptive to mating,” said Fitzsimmons.

Gray whales engage in often elaborate courtship practices before mating. Males will use their pectoral fins to coerce and align females into mating positions. Females have even been observed avoiding the attempts of males for days.

And then later we came across four more gray whales, one of whom did several breaches in front of us. All very cool!

    

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Return to Kauai

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Darlene and I just spent twelve days in Kauai, my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands.  There’s just so much to do and explore there – you can never have enough time! Twelve days was still not enough for everything we wanted to do. I last visited Kauai about eleven years ago on an REI Adventures trip.  And, as I found with the extra days after my REI trip last time, I highly recommend Andrew Doughty’s The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook to making the most of your time in Kauai.

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We stayed four nights in the southwest, in Waimea, and did a bunch of hiking in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Our first full day was along the Awa’awapuhi Trail – out and back only as the Cliff Trail is currently closed due to cliffside collapses.  Another day was the Pihea Trail through the Alaka’i Swamp to the wonderful Kilohana lookout and another day for the Cliff Trail to the top of the Waipo’o Falls.  Every trail was more than the usual adventure (and slow-going) due to all the clay, mud and severe trail erosion, particularly along the Pihea Trail.  Finally, we also explored a little bit in the south near Po’ipu along the beaches and cliffs.

We found ourselves getting a late start on seemingly every day-long excursion so that we were always the last ones out of a given location, which was pretty cool for feeling like we had the place to ourselves and getting pictures without anyone else present.

Our next four nights were at a rented condo in Princeville, overlooking the ocean and we were thrilled to be able to watch the lengthy parade of humpback whales blow and breach right from our lanai.  The super dark night skies here were also fantastic for star watching.  From here, we visited the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, hiked the Kalalau Trail through the start of the Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi’ai Falls, checked out a couple of the wet and dry sea caves (including swimming into the “blue room”), watched the winter storms pound the coast around Hanalei Bay and at the “Queen’s Bath” and kayaked one evening up the Hanalei River. (And unexpectedly met Josh, my guide from my previous Kauai trip eleven years ago, who now owns a kayak rental/tour outfit of his own in Hanalei: Napali Kayak Tours.)

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Our last four nights were spent at a hotel on the east side in Wailua.  From here, we rented kayaks and paddled up the Wailua River and then hiked the remainder to “Secret Falls”.  (This is a very popular and well-known kayak/hike outing.  They’re anything but secret!)  We also visited Wailua Falls and hiked our way down one of the very unofficial trails to swim in the large pool of the falls. Another long day was spent trying to hike into the center of the island and the crater of Waialeale.  Once again there’s no real dedicated trail: it’s more about repeatedly finding and following and re-finding hunters’ trails to make your way as far as you can.  And of course we encountered plenty of mud along the way! We got further than I managed the last time I was here, despite having to hike the road a couple of miles due to fallen trees blocking our rented vehicle.

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We made a few attempts over the trip to get in some snorkeling from various beaches but were repeatedly thwarted by high surf conditions due to the winter storms and/or too-shallow sheltered waters in low tides.  We finally squeezed in a little snorkeling at Lydgate Park by ignoring the protected but shallow fish-feeding/snorkeling pool and swimming out what seemed like nearly a half-mile on a relatively calm evening.  (We had to go that far out to just get like a dozen feet of depth and find some fish.)  On some future trip I still want to set aside a few days to go out on a boat for scuba diving.  We ended our trip like my first one with a spectacular helicopter tour around the island.

Click through for the full gallery or below for a video montage from the trip:

(5-minute video, 71 MB download)

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Whales at Moss Landing

There’s been loads of humpback whales in Monterey Bay this summer and Darlene and I finally had a chance to go on a whale-watching tour by kayak out of Moss Landing this past Sunday with Dave of Venture Quest Kayaks.  Thanks once again, Dave!  We had a great time and encountered numerous humpback whales diving and feeding together, once even coming up between our kayaks, as well as saw plenty of others off in various directions, blowing, diving and even breaching in the distance.  After a snack break back at the boat launch, we headed in to the Elkhorn Slough with the aid of some handheld kayak sails.

In addition to all the whales, we also saw plenty of other wildlife: lots of harbor seals, sea lions, otters, egg yolk jellyfish, starfish, porpoises, pelicans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, cormorants and even an egret.  A couple of people saw a mola mola pass under, but we missed that. D’oh!

However, our kayak was boarded in the slough by a sea otter “patrol” – apparently inspecting us for goodies… or contraband?  (Check out the video below.)

We had so much fun on Sunday that we decided to sign up to come back the very next morning. On Monday, the entire bay was incredibly calm but we really had to work to find any whales. We had to paddle out nearly three miles into the bay to find them, but find them we did! Or perhaps they found us…

A short video montage of our two days of kayaking (4.3 minutes, 70 MB)

Click through for the full gallery of images from both days:

  

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Kayaking from Davenport Landing

Kayaking out from Davenport Landing (north of Santa Cruz, CA) to see whales and dolphins
with the Outdoor Adventure Club and Venture Quest Kayaking:

 

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Kayaking in Santa Cruz

Another fun day out kayaking in Santa Cruz with the Bay Area Outdoor Adventure Club and guided by Venture Quest Kayaking. We started out from the Santa Cruz pier and went around the lighthouse to Natural Bridges State Park to stop for lunch before returning with the help of some handheld sails.  Saw lots of sea otters among the kelp along the way!

Click on through for the full gallery:

  

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Whale Watching near Monterey Bay

Click through for a gallery of pictures from a day cruise out for whale watching in Monterey Bay, California with Glenn and Michele:

  

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