Humpback whales bursting against the backdrop of the Channel Islands lured passengers to the bow of the boat. The captain’s voice rang out, “Okay, guys, we’ve got a pair of humpback whales at 3 o’clock, take a look.” That day in the Santa Barbara Channel with Island Packers Cruises, passengers saw more than 10 humpback whales, a gray whale and several pods of dolphins. Even seasoned crew members called it an awesome day on the water.
Navigating the channel often offers the exciting potential of seeing some of the 28 species of marine mammals found here. Winter is the ideal season for whales, as they migrate along our coasts. According to Channel Island National Park volunteer Judy Oberlander, recent outings have even spotted pods of orcas.
There was a sense of wonder and anticipation on board that day as we kept our eyes peeled for the jet of a vent or the flash of a bowed tail. Several pods of dolphins frolicked alongside the boat throughout the day, reveling in the ship’s wake. The crew explained that for every dolphin visible on the surface, 5-10 were swimming below, meaning that at any given time we may have been visited by over 3,000 dolphins.
Boating in the channel also offers a wide view of the coastline from Ventura to Santa Barbara and a closer look at the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara and their surrounding waters. After a particularly stormy winter, crew members said they were delighted to be back on the water more regularly and enjoying the warmer spring weather.
Island Packers operates several days a week from Ventura Harbor, a bustling shopping and dining destination with nearly three dozen storefronts, including restaurants, galleries and boutiques filled with beach essentials, local art , souvenirs and handcrafted jewellery. Like its sister location in Santa Barbara, Ventura’s Brophy Bros. is a popular dining experience, featuring fresh seafood, craft cocktails and harbor views. Just downstairs, Fratelli’s Pizza and Brew is great for quick family meals. Just steps away, Coastal Cone offers 46 flavors of ice cream, along with their signature Taiyaki cone, a fish-shaped waffle treat – a great way to end a great day on the water.
Winter whale watching with Island Packers runs through mid-April; summer trips start in mid-June. Wildlife viewing tours on Anacapa Island take place year-round. For more information, visit islandpackers.com.