Jul 23, 2013 7:05 PM by Jeanette Trompeter

No Place Like Home: Finding Orcas off Santa Barbara

We've seen proof of the magnificence of Mother Nature with the video shot off Avila Beach this weekend. All the talk of whales making showings off the Central Coast reminded us of a journey photographer Kelly Teel and I took a couple of years ago.

We went in search of Gray Whales off the coast of Santa Barbara, but ended up connecting with a pod of Orcas.

When you board the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara, you hardly have to leave the harbor before you may be thinking you got your money's worth. Unless you've spent a lot of time on a boat, just the view of Santa Barbara will have you pulling out the camera. And if what you really wanted to see, was marine life, you won't be disappointed. "These are California Sea Lions...commonly referred to as seals, they're not. Their quite a bit different than seals." explains our captain, Mat Curto.

On the day we ventured out, we had great weather. The sun was out, winds were light, and the water was as blue as the sky. It didn't take long to feel incredibly lucky to live in such a beautiful place. Mother Nature was putting on quite a show.

And as we headed out in search of whales, the sea lions, birds, and dolphins provided a beautiful opening act. As Captain Mat explained, there's year-round entertainment off the South Coast. "We start in December and January watching Gray whales and then we'll go from Gray whales, to Humpbacks to Blue whales back into Gray whales." And there always the dolphins. The beautiful, so apparently carefree, dolphins.

Captain Mat set out to find us some humpbacks or blue whales, but our timing was right for an out of the ordinary experience about two miles off shore. Killer whales aren't common on the Central or South Coast. Captain Matt says he sees them 10-15 times a year. But we were lucky enough to catch this Condor Express special engagement. "Oh yeah. Very special" he explained. "Especially this time of year. We normally see if them if we're going to see them in December, January and February when the grey whales are migrating."

Isabella Hedley came out with her grandmother Polly. "That was huge" she exclaims as she watches an Orca breach. "Isn't that great? It's beautiful!" Grandma Polly agrees. Neither will likely ever forget this adventure. "The first thing I saw was the sea lions on the buoy thing, and then dolphins, and now the killer whales." Isabella says.

It was a thrill to watch them as they surfaced. It seemed at times they were making their graceful appearances for our entertainment. These magnificent creatures appeared almost friendly. As they frolicked before us, they seemed disinterested in the sea lion surfacing on the other side of the boat. In fact, they seemed unaware of it's presence as they dove back down a good distance away.

But within moments these majestic creatures made it quite clear where they rank in the hierarchy the marine food chain. We all screamed when we watched one surface suddenly and take down a sea lion.

The Condor Express guarantees a show. But even if the marine life had stayed quiet, there just wasn't a view not worth a picture. Hans Terbeek and Cindy DeGroot will be taking plenty of great shots back to Holland. "Excellent, it's amazing, to see so many different species, whales dolphins seals, sea lions." says DeGroot. "To see killer whales and dolphins up close, that was really something special."

A few hours off the coast of Santa Barbara makes for an impressive outing no matter where you're from. But even more so, when it's right in your own backyard.

For more information on the Condor Express, click here.

For more information on whale watching in Santa Barbara, click here.

For more information on whale watching out of Morro Bay, click here.

For more information mon whale watching out of Port San Luis, click here or here.



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