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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: October 3 & 4, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

Large numbers of California sea lions were seen on both trips. © Diego Asturias / diegoasturias.com

Saturday's Farallon Islands whale watching trip originally encountered seas with NW winds of less than 5 knots and swells of 2-4 feet. The boat headed 15 miles NW of Point Bonita and zig zagged around, finding a total of 6 humpback whales during two encounters. 5 whales were located 10 miles NNW of Point Bonita and the sightings were a mixture of blows in the distance and 20 minute encounters of backs and blows closer up. At the end of the day, a juvenile whale was seen breaching between Point Bonita and The Cliff House. The captain turned off the engine, and the whale came within 50 feet of the boat. A little after noon, the captain had to turn the boat around due to high seas, so the trip ended early. Also observed were: 45 California sea lions, 12 harbor seals, 20 harbor porpoises and an ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Birds included 6 western grebes, a pink footed shearwater, 5 sooty shearwaters, 40 brown pelicans, 120 double crested cormorants, 50 Brandt's cormorants, 3 parasitic jaegers, 50 California gulls, 150 western gulls, 20 Caspian terns, 50 elegant terns and 200 common murres.

Moonrise over the Farallon Islands. © Diego Asturias / diegoasturias.com

Sunday's whale watching group left through the Golden Gate, then turned north and followed the Marin coastline before heading out to the Farallons. The boat returned through the shipping lanes and south to Pacifica, before heading up the coast to San Francisco and home. Starting the trip, the weather was overcast, clearing to sunny skies, with a swell of 2-6 feet. Passengers saw 10 humpback whales; the first 3 on the northern outbound trip, the next 4 when the boat was inbound in the shipping lanes, and the final 3 offshore near Pacifica on the way back. In addition to the whales, the passengers were treated to a sight of over 1,000 California sea lions! A group of about 400 sea lions were porpoising at sea—an incredible sight! Passengers also saw 300-400 northern fur seals at Indian Head Rock. Finally, the list of animals seen includes 2 ocean sunfish (Mola mola, one was 6-7 feet wide), 12 harbor porpoises, more than 5 Fucellia evermanni (kelp flies) and 4 Chrysaora fuscescens (Pacific sea nettles).

Blue-footed booby in flight, October 4, 2015. © Diego Asturias / diegoasturias.com

Bird watchers saw a blue-footed booby in flight and landing, and in good view on Sugarloaf. They also saw 25 western grebes, a northern fulmar, a pink-footed shearwater, a Buller's shearwater, 50 sooty shearwaters, a black-vented shearwater, an ashy storm-petrel, a black storm-petrel, 300 brown pelicans, 20 Brandt's cormorant, over 625 pelagic cormorants, 2 black oystercatchers, 16 red-necked phalaropes, a pomarine jaeger, 3 parasitic jaegers, a long-tailed jaeger, over 200 California gulls, over 200 western gulls, 30 elegant terns, 500 common murres, a rhinoceros auklet, a tufted puffin, and 16 brown boobies, but no northern gannet.

A kitesurfer near the Golden Gate Bridge on October 4, 2015. © Diego Asturias / diegoasturias.com

Author

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