social behavior

Special Sighting: Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari

Sighting on June 18, 2018 from vessel Manute'a

As a naturalist, I'm always looking for ethical wildlife experiences when I travel. My first "special sighting" was in my hometown of Dana Point, California with Dana Wharf. Since then I've posted about seeing orcas in the San Juan Islands, spotting fur seals in Tasmania, and observing elephant seals and a beached blue whale along the California coastline.

Last weekend I found myself again in my beloved hometown, the place that inspired my love of the ocean. I decided to go whale watching. 

Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is a well known local business. Anybody who spends time down at the harbor knows about "Dolphin Dave." As a local, I was stoked to be heading out for the first time on their catamaran sailboat Manute'a. 

The crew was led by Captain Dan and naturalist Craig. We headed north out of the harbor, noting some California sea lions on a buoy.  We found our first group of dolphins near the Dana Point Headlands. 

The crew estimated there were about a hundred long-beaked common dolphins in the group. The dolphins exhibited feeding behaviors, surging through the water to chase the fish. Hungry birds including brown pelicans and gulls hovered and dove near the group. There were calves present in the group as well.

The dolphins led us north, bow riding and wake riding. When we reached the Laguna Beach city limit, we left the dolphins and turned west towards the edge of the continental shelf, which in southern California is only a few miles offshore. 

We had only gone a few miles when we found another group of two hundred dolphins. The crew identified them as short-beaked common dolphins. 

This group also had calves, but were exhibiting more social behaviors.

We saw lots of aerial exhibitions, exposed bellies, and calves porpoising with adults. 

We turned back south along the shelf, searching for a whale. We spotted lots of sooty shearwaters clumsily taking flight or resting on the surface of the water. 

After progressing south for a while, the crew spotted a spout half a mile to the southwest, followed by an enormous fluke. We approached the general area where the whale had taken its dive, then waited for it to resurface. About ten minutes later, it surfaced just over a hundred yards away from the boat. 

It was a blue whale. It spouted five times, slowly circling the vessel. 

On the fifth spout it did a fluke dive. We were perfectly positioned to capture the ventral view.

According to the company's Instagram account, this whale was identified as Kinko, a female who was seen for the first time in four years. 

There was also another group of long-beaked common dolphins in the area, but they did not approach our vessel. There was one other boat in the area. 

The captain and crew had a lot of interesting information to share. I'm a Dana Point native who works on a whale watching boat and I learned interesting new facts that I'd never heard before. The operation was professional and respectful of the wildlife. At the end, we even got to taste Mrs. Captain Dave's famous brownies. 

You can find out more about Captain Dave at I highly reccomend following their beautiful Instagram page @captdaveswhalewatching

Sightings Report: January 28th, 2018

Sighting from SFWT trip on vessel Outer Limits

This trip saw some of the best weather we had seen in a few months. Light northerly winds meant that the day was sunny and there were few whitecaps. 

We were searching for whales the whole trip out to the Farallon Islands. We had great visibility, spotting several groups of harbor porpoises, a few harbor seals, and California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys. 

We had just made it close to the islands when I saw a spout to the south. I called it out to the captain and we made our way towards it slowly. 

As we observed the whale's stout, heart-shaped blow, we spotted another spout to the west. It turned out we had three gray whales surrounding us. 

One of the grays surfaced alone while the other two dove and surfaced in synchrony. One of the whales in the pair was floating on its side and on its back, showing us a pectoral fin and half of the fluke. This social behavior is not commonly seen in our area, where the whales are often focused on traveling. 

Whales floating on their sides, bellies facing each other. You can see one lobe of a fluke and some pectoral fins sticking out of the water. A few gray whales display mating behavior on their migration south, especially if they're later in the season.

Whales floating on their sides, bellies facing each other. You can see one lobe of a fluke and some pectoral fins sticking out of the water. A few gray whales display mating behavior on their migration south, especially if they're later in the season.

We watched the whales interact with each other while floating in neutral. We saw several fluke dives, and a few times the whales came within 100 yards of the boat. 

Gray whale fluke.

Gray whale fluke.

After spending almost an hour with the whales, we headed towards the islands. We saw a large group of eared grebes in Mirounga Bay, along with surf scoters, pelagic and double crested cormorants, common murres and western gulls.

Eared grebes.

Eared grebes.

As we moved around the northern side of the island, a Peregrine falcon soared overhead. 



We turned back around the island towards Fisherman's Bay, getting a close look at the seabirds on Sugarloaf. The California and Stellar's sea lions on shore barked and slid into the water. 

We also noticed moon jellies and pacific sea nettles in the water. 

Murre arch.

Murre arch.

Our trip back was smooth and sunny, with more porpoise and seal sightings near the Golden Gate Bridge.