Feeding Frenzy in the Sea of Cortez
By Jeremy Saenz, crew on the Safari Endeavour
The months of February and March in the Sea of Cortez mean the opportunity to view the largest animal to ever have existed on our planet—the blue whale. We always set aside at least half a day to look for this beautiful and very large creature. One would think that the largest animal on the planet would be easy to find, but the Sea of Cortez is a big place and these magnificent critters spend most of their time beneath the water.
This week, we found our blue whale by accident when we had spotted a large flock of birds in the distance. We could not tell what kind they were or what they were up to, but any time a large group of birds is spotted down here, the Safari Endeavour makes it a point to check it out as this usually means that there is food in the area.
Sure enough, as we got closer, it was apparent that these birds were not alone. The water was also churning with about 100 common dolphins who were unusually active for this time of day. Dolphins are mostly nocturnal feeders but will take advantage of a large school of fish when the opportunity presents itself. We all got excited and called our guests out on deck as we approached this mass of birds and dolphins.
The large group of birds turned out to be made up of at least five species, with brown pelicans and royal terns making up the bulk of the group but Caspian terns and Heermanns Gulls coming in a close second. As the terns and gulls caught fish, magnificent frigate birds would try and coax them out of their catch by harassing them relentlessly. The brown pelicans would all fly to an area and then dive in succession into the school of fish. It was a sight to behold!
Soon, we heard the blow of water as a humpback whale joined the action. Then a second blow was heard as our one humpback whale turned into two. We watched in amazement as the feeding frenzy would culminate in diving birds, the intense surface action of the common dolphins and the sound of whale breathing. Then, the birds would calm down and the waters became calm as the humpback whales sounded with a rise of their tails.
Just when we thought it could get no better, the bridge spotted a very tall blow about a quarter mile away. We didn’t want to leave but the height of the blow told us that this was a very large whale. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to go far as the new whale came closer just as the skies began to grow colorful and the sun approached the horizon. It was a blue whale - and it must have come to join the feeding frenzy.
For the better part of our afternoon, we followed this feeding frenzy as it moved in a haphazard fashion. Humpback whales dove and resurfaced with loud exhalations. The chorus of bird sounds quieted and then returned in a crescendo of cries as the common dolphins drove the fish to the surface once more. All the while, just outside of the frenzy, the world’s largest animal – the blue whale – dove and resurfaced in the golden light of the sunset. For the rest of the trip, this day was referred to as “the feeding frenzy day.”