Lured to the shore by a bumper harvest of krill, blue whales are turning out in large numbers along California's shoreline, much to the delight of those wishing to catch a glimpse of the largest known animal.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Grab your camera and binoculars: There's rarely been a better time to go whale-watching off the California coast.
Tourists from around the world have been flocking to Monterey Bay to catch a glimpse of the massive marine mammals, including impressive numbers of blue whales, the largest animals on earth.
Longtime observers say they've seen a sharp increase in endangered blue and humpback whales feeding near California shores, where they spend the spring and summer before heading to their winter breeding grounds off Mexico and Central America.
"It's phenomenal that these humongous creatures are out there and we just get to go out on a boat and go out and watch them," said Santa Cruz resident Susan Stuart after a recent whale-watching cruise.
What's bringing the whales so close to shore? A bumper harvest of their favorite food: tiny, shrimplike critters known as krill.
Strong northwest winds have been pushing up cold, nutrient-rich waters from the ocean bottom — a phenomenon known as upwelling. That has fueled blooms of phytoplankton that have led to an explosion of krill, the main food source of blue and humpback whales.
"The season overall has been pretty exceptional and we're not done," said Nancy Black, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, which offers bay cruises twice daily.