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Rare Sightings of a Brown Booby Bird While Whale Watching!

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Whale Watching | Birds | Mammals

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


And possibly sperm whales

California has some of the rarest bathymetry of anywhere else in the world. Bathymetry is just basically what the ground looks like underwater. When you mix unique bathymetry, a crazy el Niño year, and lots of whale watching, there are going to be some very unique sightings. Read on to find out what we’ve been seeing!

Just recently while out on the water, there has been a bird that’s sitting on top of a buoy. Right away the Captain and I started talking about this bird and how we’d never seen it before. After talking with my manager and some co-workers, we discovered that we were looking at a brown booby! This is an extremely rare sighting for Southern California and he seems to be sticking around. There have been multiple sightings on the buoy this last week.

Normally brown boobies are found in the southern waters around the Gulf of Mexico. It’s usually accidental for them to be this far north. They feed mostly on small jumping fish and squid and dive similar to brown pelicans. They can dive from 15m off the surface of the water and do a nosedive straight into the ocean reaching depths of 6ft!

Although we didn’t get to see it do any feeding, we did get a great view of him hanging out on a buoy with some sea lions. Both my co-worker and I saw it on separate occasions within about a weeks time, so with any luck, it’ll be sticking around for a little bit for everyone to see! We’re not sure why it’s here right now. It might have to do something with this being an el Niño year and having all of these tropical storms.

Besides seeing a brown booby, we may have also spotted sperm whales about two weeks ago. I heavily emphasize the “may” because we didn’t actually see the whales. But what we did see were big blows from a couple of whales that repeated continuously in rapid succession for about four minutes as we tried to get closer. By the time we got to the whales, they went down and didn’t come back up. We later spotted the blows on our way back in, which was an amazing 40 minutes later. The rapid succession of blows and extreme dive times are all characteristics of sperm whales! Not to mention, fisherman have reported large squid in the area, which is a sperm whale’s main diet.

Having a unique bathymetry in California let’s us get such a variety of animals. Unlike other areas in the world where there in usually one big drop off to deep water very far from shore, we have lots of hills and valleys under us. This allows us to have really deep water close to shore and shallow water off shore. In the deep water sperm whales can dive deep for squid, and the blue and fin whales can feast on deep krill. In shallow water gray whales can stay safe with their calves as they pass by on their migration to and from Mexico.

In the last two weeks we’ve spotted numerous gray and fin whales, a brown booby, and possibly some sperm whales. Join us in our search as the pieces of the puzzle all come together to make some interesting whale watching!

Rare Sightings of a Brown Booby Bird While Whale Watching!
A brown booby sitting on a buoy with sea lions.  | Kera Mathes
Rare Sightings of a Brown Booby Bird While Whale Watching!
Humboldt squid are part of a sperm whale's diet. This Humboldt squid is being dissected. Notice the hand compared to the size!  | Kera Mathes
Rare Sightings of a Brown Booby Bird While Whale Watching!
The Humboldt squid laying across the table.  | Emily Yam

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010 08:04 AM

My family and I are going to visit the Pacific Aquarium on March 30th and would like to ask you about what are the possibilities of actually seeing whales that late in march, so we can decide to take the tour or not . . .

Thank you very much.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010 02:25 PM

Yes!  There’s a good possibility that we will still seeing whales.  March is the month where we normally see the mom and baby gray whales passing by.  We haven’t seen any of those pairs yet, and they’re the last to leave the lagoons as they pass by heading up north.  As I always say, there are unfortunately never any guarantees with wildlife, but chances are good!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010 07:53 PM

I took the 12:00 trip today.  We were treated to 3 Grey whales surfacing many times and giving us a great show.  Add the sea lions and about 100 dolphins playing around the boat and it was a wonderful cruise.  The narration was excellent and the crew was friendly, polite, professional and very entertaining.

One of the best ways to spend an afternoon.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010 03:46 PM

what time of day is better for spotting whales the12 or 3 ride?

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Monday, March 22, 2010 08:49 AM

Thanks, John!  I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip!  You’ll have to join us again sometime.  Blue whales are right around the corner!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010 07:28 PM

I was going to go on the Gray Whale Watch in May…is that too late in the year to see anything?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010 11:56 AM

Anette- As far as time goes; it doesn’t really make much of a difference.  The whales keep going no matter which part of the day it is.  The amount of sightings on either trip is about the same.  I’ve seen some phenomenal stuff on both trips all year long. 

Megan- We normally wind down gray whale watching by May, however, we do Dolphin and Sea Life cruises.  It’s the same length as the gray whale watch, but we focus more on dolphins and other animals. Most of the grays have already passed, but if there are whales, we’ll look definitely stop and look. I will say that I’ve seen humpbacks every year in May, including a couple days of spectacular breaching shows!!!

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