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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.

Story: Santa Cruz Sentinel

This entry was posted in Press Coverage on September 14, 2013 by jennyo.

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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

Napa Valley Register

This entry was posted in Press Coverage and tagged monterey bay, monterey whale watching, Pacific Coast, santa cruz, whale watching on July 23, 2013 by jennyo.

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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.

Santa Cruz Sentinel

This entry was posted in Media, Press Coverage on July 9, 2013 by jennyo.

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Whales fill the Monterey Bay

Humpback while Whale Watching in Monterey Bay California with Stagnaro Charters

Humpback feeding on krill, Monterey Bay. Photo: Peter Bodin

Slideshow available at: Santa Cruz Sentinel

This entry was posted in Media, Press Coverage on June 18, 2013 by jennyo

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A Whale of a Show: Krill Bloom Draws Blues and Humpbacks to Monterey Bay

Krill Bloom Draws Blues and Humpbacks while Whale Watching in Monterey Bay California with Stagnaro Charters

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.”

Santa Cruz Sentinel

This entry was posted in Press Coverage on June 18, 2013 by jennyo.

NBC News Bay Area

Humpback Whale Hanging Out Near Santa Cruz

Humpback in Santa Cruz while Whale Watching in Monterey Bay California with Stagnaro Charters

Perhaps it's a surf bum. Or maybe it's in for a "whale" of a time at the Boardwalk.

Whatever the cause, an adult humpback whale has made the sleepy beach town of Santa Cruz its stomping grounds -- or at least the shallow waters near Main Beach in Santa Cruz, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The whale -- nicknamed "Stinky" by locals, perhaps for its taste for the sardines and anchovies which are prevalent in that part of Monterey Bay -- has been seen in water as shallow as 25 feet, a rarity for such massive mammals, according to whale experts.

Stinky is 50 feet long which means it is possibly a female, as female humpback whales are bigger than males.

The whale breaches and generally puts on quite a show for beach-goers, according to Ken Stagnaro of Santa Cruz Whale Watching. But Stinky won't do so for long -- whales move on quickly, so anyone wishing to catch a glimpse should do so soon.

Source: Humpback Whale Hanging Out Near Santa Cruz | NBC Bay Area Santa Cruz Sentinel

By Chris Roberts

Follow us: @NBCBayArea on Twitter | NBCBayArea on Facebook

This entry was posted in Media, Press Coverage on April 3, 2013 by admin.

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Fox News

Endangered Whales invade California Coastal Waters

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Grab your camera and binoculars: There's rarely been a better time to go whale-watching off the California coast.

Tourists from around the world have been flocking to Monterey Bay to catch a glimpse of the massive marine mammals, including impressive numbers of blue whales, the largest animals on earth.

Longtime observers say they've seen a sharp increase in endangered blue and humpback whales feeding near California shores, where they spend the spring and summer before heading to their winter breeding grounds off Mexico and Central America.

"It's phenomenal that these humongous creatures are out there and we just get to go out on a boat and go out and watch them," said Santa Cruz resident Susan Stuart after a recent whale-watching cruise.

What's bringing the whales so close to shore? A bumper harvest of their favorite food: tiny, shrimplike critters known as krill.

Strong northwest winds have been pushing up cold, nutrient-rich waters from the ocean bottom — a phenomenon known as upwelling. That has fueled blooms of phytoplankton that have led to an explosion of krill, the main food source of blue and humpback whales.

"The season overall has been pretty exceptional and we're not done," said Nancy Black, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, which offers bay cruises twice daily.

The abundance of whales has been a boon to boat tour operators in Monterey Bay, whose deep underwater canyon makes it one of the best places to see whales, dolphins and other marine life.

"The word is out right now. If you want to see a whale or blue whale or several species of whale, now's the time to go for sure," said Ken Stagnaro, co-owner, Santa Cruz Whale Watching, who estimates business has doubled this year over last year.

But the rebound in whale populations has led to a new problem: more collisions with the giant cargo ships heading in and out of San Francisco Bay, one of the world's busiest ports, experts say.

"When a ship strikes a whale, it's usually not a good outcome. Often times the vertebrae are broken and the whale dies," said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Federal officials are working with conservation groups and the shipping industry on a plan to help protect the whales around San Francisco Bay. They want to reroute ship traffic and improve tracking of whales to reduce collisions.

Conservationists want to ensure that future generations get a chance to see the world's largest animals.

"When you see a whale in the wild, it's a life changing experience," said Maureen Gilbert, an on-board naturalist for Santa Cruz Whale Watching. "You're never the same person after you've had that kind of encounter with a wild animal."

Fox News

This entry was posted in Media, Press Coverage on April 3, 2013 by admin.

Huffington Post

Humpback Whale Close Encounter Off California Coast Captured By Photographer

Article: Huffington Post

The Huffington Post | By Katherine Bindley Posted: 08/21/2012

This entry was posted in Media, Press Coverage on April 3, 2013 by admin.