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."
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