Condor Express - SEA Landing
301 W. Cabrillo Blvd.
Santa Barbara, CA  93101
(805) 882-0088 (Phone)   |   (888) 779-4253 (Toll Free)   |   (805) 965-0942 (Fax)
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Year Founded:

   This all-new, 75 foot, high-speed catamaran is the most comfortable & advanced vessel on the west coast, in the premier Whale Watching & Party/Dinner Cruise venue in California. Crew members are experienced naturalists. Come ride with the experts.
    The Santa Barbara Channel is home to over 30 different species of whales, dolphins, and seals and sealions that visit throughout the year, making these waters some of the most consistent locations found anywhere to view a variety of marine mammals. The Discovery Channel's "Wonders of our National Parks" highlighted the outstanding abundance of marine life in the Santa Barbara Channel and named it "One of the 10 Best Places in the WORLD to View Wildlife."
    From May through November (summer season) our cruising grounds include the nutrient rich waters around Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. It's this area that is generally considered to contain one of the world's highest concentration of feeding blue whales and humpback whales in the world! In the winter and spring months we visit with the California gray whale herd as it passes by on both their Southern and Northern migration.
    The CONDOR EXPRESS is available for private charters for those who wish to book the entire vessel for any type of function or event, including birthdays, weddings, fundraisers, anniversaries, or a sunset cruise. Groups can be as small as 10 people or up to 149 persons. The CONDOR EXPRESS is just what your group needs for that perfect experience on the water. Its large, luxuriously teak paneled, walk through cabin offers comfortable booth seating for up to 68 people! A complete galley, cocktail bar, buffet hot table and salad bar. And catering is always available from light snacks and hors d'oeuvres to full dinners. We also offer regularly-scheduled Open Party Cocktail/Sunset Cruises along the coast, as well as Adventure Cruises such as Pelagic Bird Trips, Island Kayaking, and much more throughout the year. The CONDOR EXPRESS is also the perfect platform for educational and research trips, as well as marine-oriented film work. It has the speed and stability to work comfortably anywhere your research needs take you, and is well equipped with state of the art navigational equipment, a large working deck, and the ability to work underwater equipment.

Activities Available:
    Birding,  Cruises,  Kayaking,  Tours,  Whale Watching,  Wildlife Tours,  

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    Bird Watching,    Boat Charters,    Boat Charters,    Deep-Sea Fishing,    Kayaking & Canoeing,    Tours,    Whale Watching,    Whale Watching,    Whale Watching,    Wildlife Tours,

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    Summer: 24/7 -- Winter: 6 am - 7 pm

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    Some restrictions

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 Recent News & Buzz!!
5/24/16 - Humpbacks Galore
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It was a wonderful sunny day in the Santa Barbara Channel and the wind never got going. Captain Eric, along with Ojos de águila Auggie, spotted lots of wildlife and we had a great excursion. The trip took us south about 6 miles, then across to Santa Cruz Island, and back home. Here are the details:
Within the first half-hour away from the dock we encountered a vast area of at least 1,500 feeding long-beaked common dolphins between 2 miles and 6 miles offshore. Upside-down dolphins were everywhere as were leaping little silvery bait fish. Towards the end of this sighting Auggie had already put his binoculars on a series of tall spouts not too far south of us.
Thus we entered a second vastly productive zone which contained approximately 20 humpback whales spread out, and we closely observed 9 of them. About 1,000 additional dolphins roamed through the region with only occasional dolphin surface feeding and minimal bird activity. One particular humpback “adopted” the Condor Express and moved at a brisk 8 knot pace to the east with the boat alongside for at least 20 minutes. No deep dives, no tail flukes, this was a traveling animal. It did let out a good number of trumpet blows. At one point we were surrounded by dolphins including a dozen of them fighting for position on the bow wave, when Eric spotted a large ocean sunfish or Mola mola in the mix. He backed down which confused the dolphins but gave us excellent views of the Mola mola in undisturbed water.
Just after noon we ran over to the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island and Eric gave his island tour and talk which included a nice visit to beautiful Potato Harbor. Oh, I almost forgot two things. Just outside Potato we watched as two very high speed military boats came west from Anacapa and swerved around us only to be out of sight within very few minutes. Glad they are on our side. The second thing was that today was the first day with LARGE flocks of sooty shearwaters resting on the surface and taking flight as we passed them We’ve had small bunched for about 2 weeks, but now the main migration to the Channel is under way.  Website
5/19/16 - Eastern Santa Cruz Island
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The fog lifted when we were on the north side of the Lanes and had to slow down to see all the wildlife in the sun. This region produced 4 humpback whales (more in the vicinity) and at least 2,000 long-beaked common dolphins all spread out over a two mile line feeding on anchovies. Seabirds followed each separate group, as the humpbacks made a few close approaches to the Condor Express and showed us lots of flukes.
Next up on the tour, Captain Dave gave his interpretation of the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island including trips inside picturesque Potato Harbor and the big Chinese Harbor. As he left Chinese and was almost back to the Lanes, another 4 humpback whales (plus more in binocular range) were located along with a legitimate mob of at least 200 California sea lions. It’s mating time on the rookeries and some of the younger animals take to the ocean to avoid the wrath of the adult male beach masters.  Website
5/12/16 - Whales and a Bald Eagle
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Captain Eric found “a tale of two Channels” in terms of weather and sea conditions today. It was nice, warm and even glassy on the north side of the Lanes, but south there were strong winds and some salt spray being kicked up. There was a dramatic cloud cap along the ridgeline of Santa Cruz Island. Luckily, as Eric did his tour of the island sea cliffs and the Cave, he put the weather astern for a nice warmish ride.
Total sightings for today included 6 gray whales, 2 humpback whales and 1 bald eagle (also seen yesterday). Here’s the scoop:
11:10 am ... One humpback whale moving east. Four minutes down, two minutes up. No flukes. This was in the northbound shipping lane.
12:10 pm ... South of the Lanes on the “08.” Our second humpback whale was located. It had 12 minutes down, two minutes up, and kicked its flukes up on the terminal dive.
12:30 pm ... Aforementioned tour of the west end sea cliffs of Santa Cruz Island and inside the mouth of the world-famous Painted Cave. No pelagic red crabs today.
1:00 pm ... During our continued tour to the east, a bald eagle was located and watched just past Cueva Valdez. Breath taking.
2:25 pm ... Between the buoys, just outside the mouth of Santa Barbara Harbor, and well inside the cruise ship “Celebrity Infinity” from San Diego, six gray whales consisting of 3 cow-calf pairs, were located and watched as they headed to Alaska.  Website
5/11/16 - Mother Lode of Humpback Whales
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Another “June” overcast day with very calm seas that were glassy most of the day. The crew spotted plenty of activity and it turned out to be an epic day out near the Santa Cruz Channel. Our totals for the day included 2 gray whales, 9 humpback whales, 6 Dall’s porpoise and at least 350 long-beaked common dolphins. Here is the whole story:
Right out of the gate I spotted what would turn out to be a very shy gray whale cow-calf pair. They remained a half-mile or so off the beach and did not turn in to the kelp beds at all while we watched. They had long down times and an erratic course. We moved offshore. Within 40 minutes our first humpback whale was located. This knobby-headed cetacean turned out to be shy also and its long, 12-minute down times were driving us impatient whale watchers crazy. We continued offshore.
Around 1055 am a moderately large pod of around 100 long-beaked common dolphins was encountered and we had some great looks. Soon thereafter a much larger pod was located with at least 250 dolphins, some were feeding upside down, some were chasing the females around upside down. We continued our path to the south until we reached the 09 line, on the south side of the Lanes, and about even with the Santa Cruz Channel. Here we saw “the mother lode” of humpback whales…9 closely watched and many more in the area that we did not have time to stay with. One pair came very close to the Condor Express and swam alongside us for a while as if we were not even there. A member of another pair threw its tail wildly and caught everyone by surprise…just once. While we watched the humpback show, approximately 6 Dall’s porpoise passed through the area. Always fun to see. It was a massive humpback whale hot spot and lots of fun to watch.  Website
5/8/16 - 6 Gray Whales Together
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Very dark skies and flash flood warnings framed the northern view but our neck of the Santa Barbara Channel was partly sunny and warm. Sea conditions were very good as a light breeze dappled the surface and a long period swell was almost imperceptible. These were ideal whale spotting conditions and the whales spotted today were correspondingly ideal. Here’s the story:
12 noon ..... Eric pointed out a group of four gray whales ( 2 cow-calf pairs) just off the Breakwater. They stayed tight together as a quad pod, circled out around the boat traffic near Santa Barbara Harbor, then finally pulled back into the kelp highway and surf zone up past Leadbetter. The sightings of this quad pod consisted of a few pairings and also a few foursomes. Their trek towards Alaska was fairly steady until we passed the Boathouse at Hendry’s. Here a third cow-calf pair that had been west of us joined up with our foursome and made a hexapod (is that a word?) okay, there were six together from that point on. Not long after joining forces all 6 gray whales stopped together and did a little playtime with the calves and perhaps some nursing too. There were frequent bubble blasts, head lifts, rolls, calves on top of moms and a spyhop or two…all just outside the breakers. This was an epic sighting.
We moved a bit more than 8 miles offshore and found a large aggregation of humpback whale scattered over a mile or so of water. There were at least a dozen humpbacks around this area, but we only had time to closely watch three of them. Again, the ideal sea conditions with 3 out of 4 Channel Islands as a backdrop, made this humpback encounter very special.  Website
5/4/16 - Quad Pod
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It was dense fog until late in the trip, with a few sucker holes with sun pouring down. There was just enough wind to entice a few kite-boarders. The coastal waters have turned a rich green-brown with the Spring bloom. It was a good single trip and here is the story:
12 noon ..... Heading out of the Harbor on radar does not happen very often. Such was the auspicious start to our excursion. We ran the kelp highway west as far as Isla Vista without seeing any spouts. There were spots along the highway with half-mile or more visibility and some solar warmth, but at IV we encountered a wall of dense stratus with no hope of seeing whales or kelp in it. Captain Dave turned the Condor Express around and re-traced his path while running east with the wind at our tail. As we approached the old extinguished light tower the fog lifted completely and the sun shone down upon 4 gray whales migrating along the outer edge, and sometimes middle of, the kelp. It was a quad pod. I coined the term quad pod to describe two cow-calf pairs of gray whales, or other Mysticetes. In this case, the two pairs swam as if it was a military flank with all four marching to Alaska side by side. Wow!  Website
5/2/16 - Santa Barbara coastal whales
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Mild weather and good crowds had the Condor Express running three excursions out of Santa Barbara today. Here are the details:
9 am ..... One gray whale mother and calf pair were located and followed for a while as they went about their trek to their feeding grounds in Alaska. After the gray whales, Captain Dave and his Whale Scout, Auggie, turned their sights offshore and quickly located 2 humpback whales heading west with 10 minute down times. Good tail flukes were seen by all, and one of the pair was very large.
12 noon ..... After a trip along the kelp superhighway up as far as More Mesa, the Condor Express again turned offshore. Right away a very small, solo humpback whale was seen. It was a humpback we saw a few weeks ago which has skin coloration like a gray whale, and it’s size is like a humpback calf. It appears to have plenty of energy and fluked up on every dive. This excursion ended with a tour of the East Beach Anchorage sea lion habitat.
3 pm ..... The late afternoon adventure located 4 gray whale (2 cow-calf pairs). The first pair was just outside Santa Barbara Harbor where they were dodging the random zig-zags of a Santa Barbara sailboat regatta and eventually went pretty far offshore to find safety. The pair finally turned back to the beach up by the old Lighthouse. Not long after this the second pair of gray whales for the late afternoon were found. Again, lots of swimming and all migration stuff.  Website
4/29/16 - Cow-calf gray whales
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The Condor Express ran one excursion along the beautiful Santa Barbara coast today in search of wildlife in general and gray whale cow-calf pairs in particular. Four gray whales were located; it was two cow-calf pairs. It was a bright and sunny day with a moderate chop from strong northwesterly winds in the far end of the Channel. The morning started with a light breeze and ended up with much heavier winds.
9 am ..... Captain Dave and his crew ran the kelp line nice and slow up the coast as far as UCSB. Around Goleta Bay, near the university, the first pair of cow-calf gray whales were located. The mother was on the small side. Was this her first calf? With winds freshening up quickly, Dave ran east and put the seas astern for a smoother ride. The second cow-calf pair of whales were observed east of the Harbor.  Website
4/27/16 - Mother and Calf Parade
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Oh, my. Sometimes the marine weatherperson gets it wrong. Today was supposed to start out breezy then morph into full gale conditions. Luckily for everyone on the Condor Express today, it started out with a slight breeze and soon went to almost perfect glass calm. All this and plenty of gray whale mothers and calves on both of our excursions…Captain Dave at the helm. Here’s the breakdown:
9 am ..... Soon after departing Santa Barbara and getting around the Princess cruise ship, we located our first 2 gray whales of the 8 we watched on this trip. They consisted of 4 mother-calf pairs. The first ones were picked up at the Yacht club and watched until we round a second pair about half-way up Shoreline going towards Hendry’s. These first whales were moving steady to the west and we had great looks. Around 1030 am Dave accelerated and ran up to the ginormous kelp beds at Isla Vista where 2 more pairs of gray whales, mothers and calves, were traveling and playing in the seaweed. There was lots of kelping, rolling, spy-hopping and changing course from west to east and back again.
12 noon ..... Our noon trip was a private charter full of sea-going Princess cruise ship folks. Now bear in mind their ship had spent 2 of the windiest days we’ve seen in years coming down from SF to SB. And these dedicated whale lovers wanted to get off the big ship and get right back out there on the Condor Express. Three cheers for hearty Princess whale peeps !!
On this afternoon trip, with glassy seas appreciated even more by the cruisers, we located our gray whale pair up at Hendry’s and followed them almost to More Mesa. These were “all business, on track, hoping to reach Alaska quickly” whales. At one point they did have a nice interaction with 4 pesky inshore bottlenose dolphins. We turned east to look for more wildlife.
Our last marine mammals sighted were in the East Beach “free” anchorage where a dozen or so California sea lions have taken residence on an abandoned old sailboat with a small dinghy tied astern. The boat is leaning heavily from all that flesh, and the dinghy is almost completely sunken. What fun !  Website
4/25/16 - The peak of the mother-calf gray whale migration
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Captain Eric took command of three excursions today and had great cetacean findings on all of them. The day started off with a mild breeze and a bit of chop from the west, and ended with a much stronger wind on top of the bump. Hearty whale watchers were rewarded for their bravery. Here are the stories:
9 am ..... Right out of Santa Barbara Harbor, at Stearns Wharf, the first two gray whales and mother-calf pairs of the day were encountered. (A total of 18 gray whales, 9 mother-calf pairs were found in total for all three trips). The Condor Express followed this first pair up to Shoreline Park where 4 more gray whales (2 mother-calf pairs) were seen in the shallow water kelp forest. These four were rolling in kelp, spy-hopping, and generally behaving the way young mammals of all kinds do. A bit outside of these kelping whales yet another pair were heading west. The gray whales were complimented by sightings of 6 inshore bottlenose dolphins, 200 long-beaked common dolphins, and, a bit further offshore, 2 large humpback whales… one of which was Rope, our old friend.
12 noon ..... Salty whale watchers from the big cruise ship came ashore only to head back out right away on the Condor Express. This group closely watched yet another 2 gray whale mother-calf pairs as they worked their way up the coast towards Campus Point. Four inshore bottlenose dolphins were also watched.
3 pm ..... By departure time, the late afternoon trip was greeted with the strong winds mentioned above in the first paragraph. These winds from the west caused Captain Eric to head “down hill” and run east with the wind and waves behind him. The near shore search for gray whales led him as far east as the Carpinteria Pier where 6 gray whales (3 mother-calf pairs) were located and closely watched.  Website
4/19/16 - Summer in April
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Captain Dave steered the Condor Express on a single, 12 noon, excursion today. We encountered mill pond glassy flat seas and un-seasonably warm air temperatures. Out of the harbor Dave ran a few miles south to find a large herd on long-beaked common dolphins, perhaps 1,200 animals, stretched out over a couple of miles. After a while the first of two humpback whales popped up right next to the boat and swam underneath from one side to the other in clear, blue water. What a sight ! Soon the second whale was up and showed good tail flukes on each dive. Next, Dave ran in towards the coast to see if there were any gray whaless in the corridor. Off Hendry’s he located a mother gray whale and her calf that were slowly moving west, and again that clear blue water made the sighting amazing.  Website
4/14/16 - Kelping Continues
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The Condor Express left the docks twice today and saw almost the same identical things on both excursions: 2,000 long-beaked common dolphins and 12 humpback whales with more in the area. The morning trip also played around with 10 or 12 Pacific white-sided dolphins just outside the harbor breakwater.
9 am ..... Right outside Santa Barbara Harbor we encountered a small feeding group of Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lags) and Captain Dave ran slow circles with them for about 10 minutes. Seabirds were diving in the area which signaled to us these Lags were probably feeding. By 945 am we were sitting alongside Platform Charlie listening to the melodious tones of Dave as he ran the oil in the Santa Barbara Channel down. At about this same time Captain Tasha, doing her deck hand duties today, had a mega-pod of long-beaked common dolphins in her binoculars about a mile or so southeast of our locations. Tall spouts, too, were reported amongst the dolphins. Sure enough, by 10 am we were completely surrounded by common dolphins that seemed to be “on the move,” as opposed to diving and feeding or logging, etc. We were south of Houchin at this point and as we drifted along with the dolphins we soon had estimated at least 12 humpback whales also in this same area, and even more outside of us all around. The cetacean biomass here was huge. Tasha’s favorite humpback of the day, the one with the white tail and a black rim all the way around like a picture frame, took to the air many times. Its first breaches were in the distance, then it let one loose close to the boat a few minutes later. What a trip !
12 noon ..... Dave wasted no time driving the Condor Express back to all that morning marine life. After a brief stop around 1235 pm for a close look and short talk about Platform Houchin, we were back in the dolphin herd by 1255 pm. Again, there were at least a dozen mixed in and around the dolphins, and, as before, more spouts in the periphery. There were two distinct and fantastic humpback whale behaviors on the afternoon excursion that we did not see in the morning. First, there were several humpback whales around the boat, perhaps as many as 4, that had found one of the numerous detached paddies of giant kelp on the surface and went about shredding the salad (or “kelping”). One of these monster veggie destroyers carried on close to the boat and took several full-body seaweed skin treatments right in front of all its fans.
The second fantastic behavior consisted of a nice “mugging” by one of the humpback whales. It turned away from what it was doing and made a direct bee-line for the bow of the Condor. When it was only a few yards away, it gently dove and passed under the boat. We look all around for it to pop back up, but we had to wait a little while, as it seemed to us that the beast was “hiding” directly under the boat, perhaps between the two hulls. But pop back up it did, several times, and many humpback whale aficionados on board were anointed several times by very close and fragrant spout spray. On our way home we passed back through that same 2,000-strong dolphin herd.
The morning had a thin marine layer and the ocean surface had a very light chop. By the afternoon trip the slight morning breeze had died, the stratus layer burned off, and the ocean was mostly glassy and smooth. It was one of the best days I’ve had in weeks.  Website
4/9/16 - Minke whales in the rain, and more.
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Just one excursion today, high noon. I guess the rain forecast put a damper on other whale watchers that hoped for dryer viewing. Actually, with a gray, low-hanging mist-filled cloud layer and accompanying gray ocean surface, finding spouts was not possible. We went to searching for tail flukes, dorsal fins…anything that would show up against this monochromatic landscape. The landscape and its cohort, the drizzle-light rain, along with a mirror glass surface, was a surreal and fantastic experience nonetheless.
Details: ..... Captain Dave with Captain Eric sitting alongside, navigated out towards The Flats using radar with quarter mile to one mile visibility and light rain. The first actual cetacean sighting was a fast-moving Minke whale on the north side of Henry. It surfaced twice and was heading west. We were heading east and never saw that particular whale again. Around 1255 pm we were well southeast of Hogan and found two more Minke whales, then three more after that. Most were average size, but one that we kept seeing was huge. Coming into a few small hot spots with cormorants, grebes, common murre and brown pelicans sitting on them, we did see a one-time horizontal lunge by a Minke that was only a few inches below the glass surface. There were many more Minke whales in the area that are not included in the counts above. At 145 pm a single humpback whale was lured into the hot spots and we had several good looks at it. It was on a two-breath, then down 5 minutes, breathing cycle which was not bad for observations. On the way home we passed through a small group of ten or so long-beaked common dolphins.  Website
4/6/16 - Scarlet the humpback whale
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Captain Dave took the wheel for two excursions today, one left at 9 am and the other at 12 noon. Again we found summer conditions with blue skies, warm sun, and glassy seas. The wildlife was also fantastic and the day turned out to be a classic for sure. Here’s the story:
9 am ..... Dave throttled up and we reached the back side of Hogan around 935 am, and after a brief overview of offshore platforms by Dave, he continued to chive onward to the east where the staff photographer had spotted the first tall spouts of the trip. We ended up off of the Rincon with 3 humpback whales. One made a very friendly approach and the on-board whale watchers were starting to get the hang of things. We watched for quite a while and kept seeing additional spouts all around and everywhere we looked. At 1025 am we sighted two Minke whales that surface very close to the Condor Express…great sightings. At 1055 am another humpback whale surfaced and it was our friend Scarlet. We had great looks at Scarlet and she is always friendly. I confess that Scarlet was lookin’ pretty good on that deep blue glassy water today. Three minutes later we came upon 4 additional humpback whales (making a total of 9 for this trip)…the white pectoral flukes of the lead whale glowed blue under the crystal water. By 1107 am we were on our way back to Santa Barbara as we passed close to Houchin. Three minutes later Dave veered off course to not mess up the fine day a large ocean sunfish (Mola mola) was having on the surface. It looked like the same individual we sighted yesterday.
12 noon ..... Once again we returned to the scene of all that humpback whale action, and by 1245 pm Dave had stopped to deliver his now famous monologue on the offshore platforms as we all got good looks at one of the smallest rigs, Henry. As we pulled away from Henry we had our first of 7 humpback whales for this trip. Not long after we had a sighting of 4 more humpback whales, one of which was Scarlet again. As we drifted along watching humpback whale spouts all around the boat, a mega-pod of at least 500 long-beaked common dolphins began to drift along with us. This was siesta time, in my opinion. Dolphins milled around, some of the males pestered some females, speeds were slow and direction of travel was random. As they intersected the boat, they took a leisurely look at the humans with cameras and cell phones taking dolphin-selfies. The last major sighting of the day was of a pair of large humpback whales, close to Hogan, one of which was throwing its tail and making a big fuss. It was a major contrast to the sleepy tone of the afternoon with all the other dolphins and whales.  Website
4/5/16 - A Mola mola close up. A Mola mola close up.
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Captain Eric (called “Tim” by some) ran a single excursion today departing Santa Barbara at high noon. The conditions were spectacular: sunny, hot, clear blue water, and a glassy surface. The cetaceans and other wild life were also fantastic. Here is the story:
We cleared the harbor entrance buoy and all the sea lions around 1214 pm, and by 1230 we were well on our way east to the edge of The Flats. Second Captain Tasha, who doubled as deck hand but did most of the driving today, spotted spouts way off in the distance. But we had to slow the Condor Express and take a little break at that point to watch a fairly large ocean sunfish (Mola mola) that was very cooperative and swam over to the boat and looked up at its fans. The sighting was enhanced by the pretty darn clear blue water. It is always great to see a Mola mola close up.
Twenty minutes later we slowed down again, this time for 6 long-beaked common dolphins, one of which was a small juvenile swimming with mom. While communing with the dolphins, we came across a single humpback whale and were checked-out by a medium small Minke whale. By 100 pm we were southeast of Hogan, in The Flats, and saw humpback whales and Minke whales in all directions We watched four of the many humpback whales closely as they dove subsurface (to feed ?). Meanwhile, we crossed through an area that was being worked by at least three very very small Minke whales. These had to be less than 10 feet each. Total estimates for the Minke whales was at least 10. Total estimates for the humpback whales was at least 8. One Minke whale rolled and lunged horizontally just a few inches beneath the surface. What a day…starting with that Mola mola and ending with high numbers of whales.  Website
4/4/16 - Four different species of cetaceans.
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Captain Eric found extremely glassy calm conditions as we sometimes do when the fog is upon us. He ran two trips today and the fog lifted a little for the second excursion. Four different species of cetaceans were observed. The Condor Express found about 600 long-beaked common dolphins, 2 Minke whales, 4 humpback whales, and 10 Pacific white-sided dolphins today. Most of the cetaceans were feeding on scattered northern anchovy bait balls. Two of the humpback whales, seen on the second trip, came by the boat and were friendly. Four different species of cetaceans was a good day by any standard.  Website
3/31/16 - Gray Whales and Feeding Humpback Whales
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Two trips left Santa Barbara today, I had the good fortune to be on board for the 12 noon excursion. It was a sunny, clear day with just a trace of wind to make the glassy ocean surface sparkle a little bit. The wildlife was spectacular. Here is the breakdown:
12 noon ... We were heading SXSE when spouts were seen and soon confirmed to be a trio of northbound gray whales. These were medium large animals and they stayed in a tightly packed formation for the 40-minute duration of the sighting. The three were very cooperative with short down times and long surface times. We started the sighting just north of the infamous Platform Alpha and ended north of the Mesa.
Around 135 pm tall spouts were spotted by deck hand Tasha with her magic eyes (and binoculars). This turned out to be a large, widespread area with numerous humpback whales of which we chose the nearest four to watch. The humpbacks had medium long down times, good surface times, and fluked-up many times. Just like the PacLife ad on TV. Two separate groups of about 100 each long-beaked common dolphins meandered past us while we were engaged with the knobby headed big cetaceans. On the way home, just outside the Harbor, we played with about 25 Pacific white-sided dolphins.
3 pm ... The late afternoon excursion took up where we left off with the humpback whales. Now they were feeding humpbacks. There where were 5 of them and some surface anchovy bait balls had formed here and there. A couple of very dramatic vertical surface lunge feeding episodes were seen by the whale fans on board the Condor Express. One of the five whales was our old pal “Scarlet,” who is a large female easily identified by a deep propeller scar across her back that also left spherical tumors or masses of tissue. Other than this physical skin deformity, she has appeared to be very healthy and active over the past years. About 100 long-beaked common dolphins came in to feed toward the end of this sighting.  Website
3/29/16 - Sea Otter Sighted Again & Brants do a Flyby
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Only one trip today: 9 am. Captain Eric took charge and kept us safe, dry and comfortable as we ran west, up the coast. Our first mammal sightings consisted of about 10 Pacific white-sided dolphins along with an equal number of California sea lions. The two species were feeding on small anchovy spots in a circle around the outer harbor buoy, the red and white one. From there we slowly ploughed ahead into the on-coming winds and seas, following the migratory path of the gray whales heading to Alaska this time of year. Three gray whales were located off Goleta Bay, and we tracked alongside until we were west of Sands Beach. Due to the wind and seas these whales kept a low profile and did most of their travels in the calm sub-surface waters. On the way home, down swell and facing the warm sun, we found the same sea otter that we encountered yesterday in that massive kelp bed just off Isla Vista. Everyone on board was thrilled.  Website
3/22/16 - Morning humpbacks, afternoon breaching gray whale
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The Condor Express ran two excursions today, a 9am which was open to the public, and a 12 noon that was a private cruise ship charter. Total sightings for the day included 4 humpback whales, 2 gray whales, 1 Minke whale, 25 Pacific white-sided dolphins, 10 long-beaked common dolphins, 1 open-ocean Pacific harbor seal, and scads of California sea lions. Here is their story:
9 am ..... The morning stratus deck had pulled out and left us with a thin alto cirrus layer and mostly sunny conditions. There was a very light breeze, almost imperceptible, and some small-to-moderate chop from the far western Santa Barbara Channel. Captain Dave headed southeast to a spot beyond Platform Hogan, the scene of yesterday’s massive multi-cetacean-species surface feeding event. No such luck today. Maybe the whales were all full, or maybe they wiped out that northern anchovy bait ball.
After passing by a fearless Pacific harbor seal juvenile that rested on the surface to watch the Condor Express pass by within 20 or 30 feet, we spotted spouts coming at us from the east. This turned out to be two humpback whales that were fairly shy and had long down times. A single Minke whale was on patrol in this same sector. We followed the humpbacks for a while until we found another pair which were a bit more friendly and got great looks.
12 noon ..... As we left Santa Barbara harbor conditions had changed. The wind was starting to freshen up, and would continue to build throughout the afternoon. It caused a few small whitecaps, but otherwise was no big deal. Skies were picking up a thicker layer of clouds. Just off Shoreline Park we found two groups of Pacific white-sided dolphins (aka, Lags), and they were pretty friendly so everyone was thrilled to see these stunning black and white cetaceans.
Around 1235 we got on 2 gray whales. Although we followed them west along the coast for about a hour, they were “stealthy” yearling or juvenile gray whales that did not create large spouts. The often snorkeled. In fact we were going to break off from this pair a couple of times and go explore richer grounds, but then one of the whales would breach. This happened 4 times, and one of the larger (grande finale ?) breaches included a nice high arch and copious water being ejected from the mouth. Makes you wonder. Was it feeding? Was it gargling or cleaning its baleen? Or…
The last major sighting was the smallest, but one of the most dramatic. I had seen three dolphins on a high speed (stampede?) chase off in the distance to the south. It was so far away I could not get decent photographs, and put the event out of my mind. But as we were heading in that direction on our way back to the harbor, we later encountered 3 Lags that were chasing each other at high speeds both underwater and on the surface. As they passed by the boat on several occasions, we quickly learned what this “chase” was all about. There was a single-minded male attempting (and succeeding?) to mate with an adult female who led the trio all around the region at nuclear speeds.  Website
3/19/16 - Lags, grays, commons....
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Captain Dave and his crew ran three 2½-hour excursions today. Total cetacean sightings today included 8 gray whales, 106 Pacific white-sided dolphins, 275 long-beaked common dolphins and several packs of California sea lions. Now for the juicy particulars:
9 am ..... As we left the harbor a thick stratus layer hung over the Santa Barbara Channel, call it May gray, June gloom or April whatever rhymes. Fortunately the layer was up a few hundred feet off the deck and other than creating very flat lighting, it was not too much of a problem spotting cetal fauna. Straight out from the entrance to Santa Barbara Harbor a few miles we encountered a nice sized herd of 50 or so Pacific white-sided dolphins (aka, Lags). Moving west, near Goleta we found another group of 50 Lags. Turning south, moving offshore, it was not long before we encountered about 200 common dolphins. Finally, we had great looks, especially through the clear water, at a single gray whale.
12 noon ..... During the break between trips the stratus layer burned off and the rest of the day was sunny and bright. As we departed the harbor we ran offshore a few miles then settled in behind a trio of westbound gray whales. Two repeatedly made deeper, hard to follow, dives. But the third whale was a shallow diver and made tracking the group easy. Later a group of 75 common dolphins played in our wake and rode the bow.
3 pm ..... Three gray whales passed the mouth of Santa Barbara Harbor and had to dodge all the boat traffic. They evaded most boats by altering their course to an offshore track, then settled back to their nearshore route once they rounded Santa Barbara Point. Good looks were had by all. Further to the west we found 6 very friendly boat-surfing Lags, that entertained their fans with their wave riding skills. On the way home, another, smaller, gray whale was found near the harbor, but it was moving eastbound. This whale did a lot of shy stuff like snorkeling as it seemed to move the “wrong direction” for this time of year.  Website

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