Baja 2016 – Week 3
EL NINO, PHYTOPLANKTON, AN UNEXPECTED SPECIES APPEARS!!
Our week 3 guests hailed from California, Vermont and New Mexico.
After a slow wind blown start to the week one all were treated to quite a show. One of the outstanding memories form this past week must be the extreme amount of vermillion colored phytoplankton blooms that covered huge swaths of the sea and billowed in thick clouds just below the surface. We all wonder what the effect of El Nino is on these blooms, but this El Nino year is certainly full of whales here.
This seemed to have little effect on the whales which poured into the area in large numbers this past week. The whale news began with our first Fin whales of the season, 7 in total. They were seen in 3 cow/calf pairs plus one adult that spent the better part of 3 hours following closely behind a Blue whale. Blue whales were seen in significant numbers this week and many of them are the same individuals that have been in the area for a full 3 weeks now. Humpbacks seem to be almost everywhere we go and our dolphin encounters were rich this week, with large pods of many hundreds, lots of bow riding, and some jumping.
But by far the surprise encounter of the week and of the season happened on our last day. This day began with 5 Humpback whales within just a few minutes of the marina. They were in 2 pairs plus a single. We stopped to check out the first pair which promptly took 2 breaths and then dove. We had only been on the water for 7 or 8 minutes at this point. We sat and waited for them to reappear and one did a full breach about 30 meters in front of us and just as it landed the other breached right next to it. Now we were sure all wide awake, the Humpbacks quited down and we then headed out to the big surprise that awaited us.
About an hour later we found one of our favorites here, Short Finned Pilot whales. These family oriented large “dolphins” came into our bow and delighted everyone aboard with their short explosive breaths. We noticed what at first we thought were Bottlenose dolphins near to the Pilot whales. But at a closer glance they looked a little too big and their heads looked a little to light. I quickly realized that we were seeing 4 Risso’s dolphins, a species I have never seen in the sea of Cortez previously. It took a while but eventually we were able to see their white heads, and their heavily scratched up bodies. They tussle with one another leaving numerous teeth marks and apparently also get scars from their battles with squid. At times they were very close to the Pilot whales and one of the breached a few times in a row making photographs easy to get.
The day would up with 4 Blue whales, one of which was extremely close to the coast in an area I’ve never seen blue whales in before. Many of this seasons Blue whales are appearing thin, so this is a very important time for them to fatten up. We observed the first Blue whale surface feeding of the year twice this week.
We are now into the middle part of our season and the sea is rich and the whales are here and actively feeding. Seeing the Pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins who are both squid eaters, was not only a highlight but it made us wonder if Sperm whales might around.
Stay tuned for the week 4 report next Sunday. The winds appear to be fair and our wanderings are sure to bring up surprises on this rich sea. We have some very old time Blue whales that have not been seen this year and our eyes will be peeled looking for them.