Close Encounters With Humpback Whales and Orcas - Oceana USA
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June 16, 2011

Close Encounters With Humpback Whales and Orcas

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today’s highlights: humpback whales and orcas!

California Leg, Day 3

Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.

At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore. 

We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.

The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling. 

As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.

In some places 100 percent of the rock walls were blanketed with colorful corals, sponges, and other living habitat. We were thrilled and entertained by an inquisitive harbor seal that was very curious about this new robot companion, and swam graceful loops around the camera. Meanwhile above the water, a pod of dolphins passed very close to the boat.

Besides the literal Carmel Pinnacles, the other pinnacle for the day was a close encounter with a pod of orcas on the trip back to Fishermen’s Wharf.  These athletic apex predators put on a spectacular show leaping out of the water, slapping their tails, and zooming under our boat. It was a magic ending to our third day on the water.