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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: September 19 & 20, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

A humpback whale fluke. 15 whales were seen on 9/19 and more than 20 on 9/20. © Ellie Buechner

Saturday's Farallon Islands whale watching trip headed out with calm seas and a 2-3 foot swell. Passengers immediately saw 5 bottlenose dolphins outside the St. Francisco Yacht Club moving toward Alcatraz. There were 15 humpback whales along with harbor porpoises feeding just 6 miles west of Point Bonita. At the islands, they saw fur seals, California and Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and elephant seals. Three miles west of the islands, they saw over 200 long-beaked common dolphins which surrounded the boat. The captain stayed with the dolphins for over 45 minutes. Bird lovers were happy to see 17 brown boobies, but were disappointed that no gannett or blue-footed booby showed themselves. Passengers also saw cormorants, shearwaters, phalaropes, murres, pelicans and gulls, along with one long-tailed jaeger.

Sunday's boat had wind of 0-16 knots and seas of 2-4 feet. Passengers saw a total of 20-22 humpback whales 3-5 miles west of Point Bonita, with some in the morning and again with a very good show in the afternoon. Whales were feeding, with some lunge feeding at the surface. One whale spy-hopped and others slapped their tails a bit. The passengers got a small thrill when one whale accidentally hit the boat with its tail. Few people saw it, and it sounded more dramatic than it was. Most people just heard and felt the brush. Other wildlife included 300 California sea lions, 200 fur seals, a Steller sea lion, 10 elephant seals, 20 harbor seals, a few bottlenose dolphins and 8-10 harbor porpoises.

The birds had a feeding frenzy and passengers saw 800-1,000 sooty shearwaters, 2 pink footed shearwater, 50-60 brown pelicans, 500 Brandt's cormorants, 40 double breasted cormorants, 4 pelagic cormorants, 2 parasitic jaegers, 12 brown boobys, a blue footed booby, 50 California gulls, 200-220 western gulls, 40-50 elegant terns, and 3 elegant terns.

Author

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