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A lunge-feeding humpback whale is seen in this photograph taken last weekend near Monterey Bay. (Jodi Frediani/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- The same sustained winds that fanned the flames of Southern California wildfires and may have contributed to the weekend deaths of two Lexington Reservoir boaters also are causing a spectacle on the sea.

Humpback whales are visiting the Central Coast in droves, feeding on a bloom of krill that is rooted in a recent spell of breezy weather. Upwelling -- the wind-driven process that pulls nutrients and cold water to the surface from Monterey Bay's deep canyons -- is providing a smorgasbord for the playful behemoths.

"It's a pretty good humpback whale show going on right now," said Nancy Black, marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey.

A lunge-feeding humpback whale makes a meal out of krill off Monterey Bay this weekend. The baleen feeders are being seen in abundance lately, drawn by an
A lunge-feeding humpback whale makes a meal out of krill off Monterey Bay this weekend. The baleen feeders are being seen in abundance lately, drawn by an abundance of food created by weeks of unusually windy weather that has infused the bay with rich nutrients. (Jodi Frediani/Contributed) ( Jodi Frediani )

Humpbacks, which have provided locals with some of the most memorable whale-watching moments in recent memory, are being joined by other creatures, giving boaters and kayakers a show.

"(Customers) have seen a couple of gray whales out with their calves, about a mile offshore," said Amelia Nommensen of Kayak Connection at the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.

Upwelling is key to the Monterey Bay's rich diversity. When winds blow surface water away, it is replaced by cooler, nutrient-rich waters from the deep that support a variety of marine life.

"It just creates this big convection cycle," said Steve Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.


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Not only did April wind speeds average more than 20 mph on the open sea, but until

this week water temperatures were in the mid- to high-40s, nearly 10 degrees cooler than they are now.

Those added nutrients reverberate up and down the food chain, bringing the bay to life.

Humpbacks and gray whales heading north aren't the only top species on the Monterey Bay: Killer whales have also been spotted over the past months. But they don't eat krill -- orcas have been spotted feasting on gray whale calves. And dolphins have been spotted in unusual abundance.

Black estimated seeing three-dozen humpbacks in the Monterey Bay, a fairly high number. Wednesday alone she spotted 20 within a fairly confined area.

"When there are a lot of humpbacks here, they're not just feeding but sometimes they're fairly active," Black said. "They seem to be more active when other whales are around."

That can include breaching and even approaching tour boats. Black said two pairs approached Wednesday, turning on their sides to get a better look at the boat and generally acting curious.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude

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