Category Archives: Press Coverage

Santa Cruz Whale Watching in the News.

A whale of a time: Anchovies bring record numbers of humpbacks

By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel
POSTED:   09/13/2013 04:42:59 PM PDT

SANTA CRUZ — Unprecedented numbers of whales have invaded Monterey Bay, on the hunt for epic schools of anchovies and delighting nature lovers and sightseers.

Local whale-watch pilots say pods of whales are joining herds of sea lions and flocks of birds to dine on the tiny green fish. Estimates range into the hundreds for humpback whales, though blue whales have been spotted too.

“It’s the most whales that I’ve seen since I’ve been doing this, over 26 years,” said marine biologist Nancy Black, of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. “There are so many humpbacks in the bay.”

Some say they numbers have spiked in recent days, while others say they’ve been here for several weeks. Humpback sightings usually peak later in the year, but volumes of whales are being reported near Moss Landing and Santa Cruz.

The marine creatures are drawn by massive schools of anchovies, with Black spotting one school that she estimated to be 200-feet deep and more than a mile long.

“You can see it on the depth finder,” Black said. “It’s really amazing. I don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

Ken Stagnaro of Santa Cruz Whale Watch said he’s recently captained trips where dozens of whales were spotted not far from Santa Cruz.

“There’s a bay full of whales out there,” Stagnaro said. “(Tuesday’s) trip we probably saw 30 to 40 humpback whales within two to three miles of Santa Cruz.”

Whales usually come to Monterey Bay for krill. Stagnaro said anchovies are cyclical, typically showing up in late summer when local stream flows are low and don’t dilute the salinity of near-shore saltwater. That creates conditions the anchovies like, he said.

Giancarlo Thomae, a marine biologist with Moss Landing’s Sanctuary Cruises, said he ventured onto the bay with a couple friends on kayaks Wednesday, and saw numerous whales, Risso’s dolphins and even an elephant seal.

“It’s just phenomenal,” Thomae said.

Whales appear to be congregating near the edges of the underwater Soquel Canyon. Even though Labor Day signals the unofficial end of the local tourist season, tour guides say crowds have been pretty strong.

They also wanted to remind people on the water that there are strict rules against approaching marine mammals too closely. In addition, Thomae said only experienced kayakers should go whale-watching on personal watercraft, noting that tides can shift suddenly over deep waters.

Whales are vacationing in Santa Cruz County

Monterey Whale Watching – Whales Are Vacationing in Santa Cruz County

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz County is playing host this month to scores of whales, including blue whales, often 70 feet long and weighing more than 100 tons.

Normally active during the winter months in Santa Cruz County, about 20,000 breaching gray whales can be seen during their annual migration along the California coast. However, krill will be plentiful this month, so the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council encourages travelers to visit the area to take advantage of the activity in the bay and opt for a whale-watching excursion while visiting.

Blue whales, fin whales and orcas have been spotted in the nutrient-rich waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Most whale-watching excursions last three to four hours, and prices start at around $40 per person except for chartered tours.

The sanctuary’s Exploration Center near the Santa Cruz Wharf is designed to give visitors a greater appreciation of the sanctuary. Part of the 12,400-square-foot center includes an open-ocean mini-theater, which uses migratory species such as whales to tell the story of the three seasons of the sanctuary and how they affect the weather, water surface conditions and kelp forest growth.

For a full listing of companies offering whale-watching excursions in Santa Cruz County, or for information about the Exploration Center and a guide to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, call 800-833-3494 or visit

June 30, 2013

My Blue Heaven: Abundance of world’s largest creature seen in Monterey Bay

By Jason Hoppin

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   07/08/2013

SANTA CRUZ — Monterey Bay is singing the blues.

Majestic blue whales are being spotted around Monterey Bay in recent days, as viewing season for the largest animal in history reaches its peak.

Whale-watching captains are reporting sightings of more than a dozen of the endangered behemoths, which seem to be venturing into the bay with greater frequency in recent years.

“(People) are in awe. I hear a lot of gasps, especially when those massive tail flukes come up,” said Dorris Welch, co-owner of Santa Cruz-based Sanctuary Cruises. “Some people just say it’s a life-changing experience.”

Because they dive deep and long, blue whales can be elusive compared to more visible humpback whales, a playful creature that has provided boaters, kayakers and even surfers with more than a few thrills.

But the blues are being seen with relative frequency, and are proving a draw for people who pine for a firsthand look.

“It’s pretty much every trip right now. (Sunday) we saw probably no less than 10,” said Ken Stagnaro of Santa Cruz Whale Watching. “Saturday morning, I followed a whale that just kept taking me into more whales.”

Due to high spring winds that have increased the nutrient levels in the water, it has been a particularly good season for whale watching. There also have been several reports of pods of Risso’s dolphins, a large, snub-nosed variety that has been seen toying with blue whales.

“They kind of play with them, kind of harass them,” Stagnaro joked. “On average, it can be kind of a boring lifestyle so they need something to keep them entertained.”

Giancarlo Thomae, a marine biologist with Sanctuary Cruises, said he believes there’s as many as 15 blues in the bay, with some coming very close to shore near Moss Landing.

“People are very stoked because they’re the largest animals that ever lived,” Thomae said. “They dwarf the boat “… people get really excited.”

Beginning about two weeks ago, boaters also have seen harder-to-spot endangered leatherback sea turtles. Now the state’s official marine reptile, the giant turtles travel from Indonesia to feed on the region’s abundance of jellyfish.

Leatherbacks typically stay until August, when they venture back across the Pacific Ocean.


A whale of a show: Krill bloom draws blues and humpbacks to bay

By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   06/17/2013 06:16:57 PM PDT

MOSS LANDING — Drawn by an abundance of food, pods of whales are frolicking across Monterey Bay, delighting oceangoing whale-watchers who spent the weekend thrilled by one of nature’s greatest shows.

Boat captains estimated scores of whales — including about 30 majestic blue whales, the largest creature to have ever roamed the earth — feeding on krill, particularly over the deep-water Soquel Canyon, where one boat reported a Saturday “feeding frenzy” by 50 whales.

“There was an extraordinary number of humpback and blue whales,” said Nancy Black, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. “Saturday was the big day.”

Playful humpbacks are regular guests of the Central Coast, but endangered blue whales usually don’t make an appearance until later in the year. While fewer than the 70 humpbacks currently estimated by Black to by in the Monterey Bay, the large presence of blue whales is unusual.

The whale crush is driven by spring winds, which shove warmer surface water aside and allow cooler, nutrient-rich waters to well up from the bottom of the sea. That “upwelling” causes a boom in lower-level species such as krill and squid, which feed whales and dolphins, respectively.

Ken Stagnaro of Santa Cruz-based Stagnaro Charters found a “feeding frenzy” over Soquel Canyon, where schools of krill can get pinned against canyon walls by the tides and giving whales an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.

“Side by side, dozens of blue and humpback whales continually surface-lunged at massive schools of krill, sometimes swimming within mere yards of the boat,” Stagnaro wrote in an email to the Sentinel. He was about seven miles off shore. “We sat nearly motionless for nearly 90 minutes as the largest animals in the world gorged on the sea surface for everyone to see.”

Lunge-feeding is a technique of baleen whales, which swim beneath their prey and can release a circle of air bubbles, called a “bubble net.” With the prey trapped and confused by air bubbles, the whale lunges skyward from the depths with mouth agape, breaching the surface.

Black also has spotted numerous killer whales on the ocean, likely here to hunt down the thousands of dolphins found offshore. She said the orcas have also been playful, spotting some while ferrying a tour group around the bay on Sunday.

“There’s just lots of wildlife around right now, lots of animals, lots of whales,” Black said. “It’s because of the wind.”