Blue whales have flocked to Monterey Bay in what some off the Central California port are calling the most phenomenal showing of the endangered mammals in recent history. As many as 100 of the planet’s largest creatures have congregated to gorge on tiny shrimp-like krill, and joining in the feast are dozens of smaller but more animated humpback whales, along with numerous other marine mammal species.
“Everywhere you go you just see blows,” Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Black said the phenomenon represents “a once-in-a-lifetime chance” for tourists to witness the splendor — and gluttony — of mammals that can measure 100 feet and weigh up to 150 tons.
What’s incredible is the sheer numbers of blue whales — there are only about 10,000 worldwide — but also feeding behavior that’s occurring at the surface and unusually close to shore. (Generally, krill remains lower in the water column and beyond sight of boaters.)
This includes horizontal and vertical lunge-feeding by whales that are capable of ingesting vast quantities of krill in single gulp.
“People get to see the world’s largest mouth,” said researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, explaining that a blue whale’s mouth is about one-quarter of the size of a mammal that consumes up to four tons of krill per day.
Krill, of course, is key to the blue whales’ existence. About 2,000 blue whales spend the summer off the West Coast fattening up on the inch-long crustaceans, before migrating to southern waters in the fall. Some of the whales feed along the coast but much of it occurs beyond the range of whale-watching fleets.
Krill feed on phytoplankton and when conditions are prime in a given area, generally after an upwelling of cold water and nutrients, krill blooms can fill vast portions of the water column.
For the last two summers, Southern California boasted the most consistent blue whale sightings. But for now Monterey Bay is the great gathering place for the ocean giants, but also for smaller cetaceans present for the feast.
On Thursday’s morning trip alone Monterey Bay Whale Watch reported sightings of 12 blue whales, 40 humpback whales, 400 Risso’s dolphins, 300 northern right whale dolphins, 250 Pacific white-sided dolphins and two minke whales.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.
—Note: Video was filmed by Mike Merlo aboard the Sea Wolf II out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Top photo shows a blue whale surfacing close to the boat. Second image shows an upside-down whale lunge-feeding, with throat pleats in full view.