Category Archives: flora and fauna

The whales of summer

The eastern portion of the Santa Barbara Channel has enjoyed some fabulous whale watching this year.

We had a grand parade of Grays during the late fall, winter and early spring and now we have Humpbacks and Fin Whales.

Stubby Fin Whale - 51


We had anchored for lunch at Fagans Lunch yesterday, when we spotted  three spouts about a mile south of Anacapa Island.  We finished hurriedly and got our anchor up and headed SSE. On the way to the rendezvous, we were rewarded with a number of flukes, though no breaches.

We remained outside 100 yards, killed the engine and sailed parallel to the animal to the south. We think it was our old friend Stubby, who we haven’t seen since the fall of ’08. We’re not 100% it was Stubby and we argued back and forth as to whether this was a Fin Whale or a Humpback. The picture, BTW, is the best one from ’08. Yesterdays pics were taken with a fairly wide angle lens and don’t show much.

We’re 99% sure this was a Fin Whale as it didn’t show much of its body as it swam, nor did it ever show its fluke. We didn’t get close enough to examine its jaw for the two tone coloration that distinguishes this whale. But the fin, that seemed like a giveaway.

A word about Sail Channel Islands whale watching: While we thoroughly enjoy sailing in company with whales, we don’t make it a practice to go after them. Whale watching with us is a passive pursuit, i.e. the whales usually come to us and keep a curious eye on us.


And you thought hammerhead sharks were bad

When I was flying the rather unfriendly skies of North Viet Nam the one thing that scared the bejesus out of me was snakes. Sea snakes to be specific. If your plane got hit, your best strategy (most of the time) was getting “feet wet, ” get somewhere out over the Gulf of Tonkin before taking the nylon decent.
Pelamis Platurus Costa Rica
Yellow-bellied sea snake (You gotta like the name, though it may rile the snake if you mention it. By Aloaiza (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I never jumped out, but we all had to be prepared. And the thing that scared me the most was the prospect of landing in a swarm of sea snakes. Forget Snakes on a Plane (which I didn’t see because I’m sure it would have scared the pee out of me). These snakes are inquisitive (like water moccasins, which reputedly just strike for the helluva it) and have cobra-like venom.

If you read this morning’s LA Times you know that El Niño has brought some variety of these critters to our shores. Silverstrand to be precise. And the snake, to be precise, was a yellow-bellied sea snake, Pelamis platurus to sound scientific.

The expert said it probably wouldn’t bite you if you didn’t pick it up. Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge) adds that though the snake has neurotoxic venom, no human has ever been killed by “envenomation,” which leads me to suspect that they have some other killing mechanism. The Wikipedia report adds that the snake is helpless ashore BUT can be found in the water in “aggregations of thousands.” Maybe they can smother you.

My nightmare has followed me home. Fortunately people are no longer shooting at me, but “feet wet” is where I live.