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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: September 12 & 13, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

Two of the more than 15 humpback whales seen on 9/13. © Ellie Buechner

Saturday's Farallon Islands whale watching trip started with a short trip around Alcatraz before heading straight out to Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI). The wind was 15-20 knots with swells of 5-7 feet. The captain turned off the engine just 6 miles outside the Golden Gate, when 6 humpback whales came within 50 feet of the boat and stayed for about an hour, showing their backs and flukes. The whales were all adult except for one calf, approximately 2 years old, traveling with its mother. Passengers also saw 500 California sea lions, a Steller sea lion, 40 harbor seals and 150 northern fur seals, along with a bottlenose dolphin and 10 harbor porpoises.

Birds spotted included 60 pink footed shearwaters, 500 sooty shearwaters, 175 double breasted cormorants, 200 Brandt's cormorants, 50 pelagic cormorants and 6 surf scoters, along with 3,000 western gulls, 15 California gulls, 7 Heermann's gulls, 20 Caspian terns, 10 elegant terns, 1,000 common murres, a pigeon guillemot and 4 tufted puffins.

Hundreds of California sea lions were seen on both days. © Ellie Buechner

Sunday's trip headed out with overcast skies, but calm seas. The group took a short tour of the bay, heading around Alcatraz, then went out the Golden Gate heading north. The boat saw 15 humpback whales, 10 providing good looks. The boat stayed with the whales for 1.5 hours then continued out to SEFI, moving around the Island and finally heading home finding whales again on the way back, slightly west of where the boat had been earlier. Some whales performed surface lunges, while others continued feeding in area. A group of three whales swimming near the boat gave lots of views of flukes, and one humpback engaged in pectoral slapping. A cow-calf pair was seen feeding in only 23 feet of water. Passengers had lots of great looks at the whales, as well as a group of 300 traveling sea lions and a parasitic jaeger harassing a tern next to boat. Other animals included 50 Fucellia evermanni (kelp fly), a small ocean sunfish (Mola mola), 500 California sea lions, 3 Steller sea lions, 2 northern elephant seals, 25 harbor seals, hundreds of northern fur seals, and 15 harbor porpoises.

Bird life included pink footed shearwater, Buller's shearwater, sooty shearwater, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Brandt's cormorant, pelagic cormorant, parasitic jaeger and Caspian tern.

A humpback whale fluke seen on 9/13. © Ellie Buechner

Harbor seals at Point Diablo cove on 9/13. © Ellie Buechner

A humpback whale seen feeding near the surface on 9/13. © Ellie Buechner


Author

Nancy Heaton is Oceanic Society's former Local Programs Coordinator based in Ross, CA, USA.