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Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watch Sightings: December 2014 - January 2015

By Brian Hutchinson

Following are the naturalists' sightings reports from our Half Moon Bay gray whale watching programs during December 2014 & January 2015.

A gray whale seen on January 11, 2015. © Sky Webb Road


Date: January 31 & Feb 1, 2015

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed west on a sunny, calm day. The exhalation of one whale was seen three times, but no other whales were spotted. Passengers did get looks at more than 20 harbor porpoises. Sunday’s trip headed north to Montara and spotted 7 gray whales. Passengers got good looks at the whale’s backs, blows, and flukes. This encounter lasted for the entire trip as the boat followed this group south to the Ritz Carlton.

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on both trips included: Pacific loons, Common loons, Eared grebes, Pink-footed shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Surf scoters, White-winged scoters, Black oystercatchers, Western gulls, and Common murres.


Date: January 24 & 25, 2015

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed 7 miles west and then south along the coast, covering approximately 30 miles. Sunday's trip covered approximately 45 miles looking for whales. Regrettably, as is the nature of wildlife viewing, neither trip was able to sight whales.

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included harbor porpoises, one Steller sea lion, California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on both trips included: Western grebes, Clark’s grebes, Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Pelagic Cormorants, Surf scoters, Red-necked phalaropes, California gulls, Western gulls, and Common murres.


Date: January 17 & 18, 2015

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour in the morning headed west 15 miles in moderate seas. Three gray whales were spotted during this trip. Two sightings were only fleeting blows, and the third whale was spotted heading south. The boat paralleled this whale for 15 minutes. Passengers were able to see the whales’ fluke prints in the water and track its progress.

The afternoon trip on Saturday also spotted three gray whales. The first was seen heading south and came within 60 feet of the boat, giving passengers got good looks at its back and flukes. This whale also swam on its side occasionally, sticking its pectoral fin out of the water. The second whale was spotted as it was travelling south. It was a smaller animal that came within 50 feet of the boat, also showing its back and flukes. This encounter lasted 10 minutes. The third whale was encountered 15 minutes from the harbor and passengers also got good looks at its back and flukes.

As is the nature of wildlife viewing, Sunday’s trip was unable to find any whales. Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included harbor porpoises,California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: Pacific loons, Common loons, Eared grebes, Western grebes, Black-vented shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Surf scoters, California gulls, Western gulls, and Common murres.


Date: January 10 & 11, 2015

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed west under sunny skies and calm seas. Approximately five miles west of Half Moon Bay an adult gray whale was spotted traveling south. Passengers were able to observe this whale breaching and the encounter lasted for 45 minutes. A second adult gray whale was observed approximately 9 miles west of Half Moon Bay. Passengers got good looks at its back, blows and flukes.

Participants on Sunday’s trip also enjoyed sunny skies and flat seas. Approximately 6 miles west of Half Moon Bay an adult gray whale was spotted. This whale was possibly female due to its wide girth. The whale came within 100 feet of the boat and passengers were able to see its blows and listen to it exhale. This encounter lasted for an hour and a half.

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included harbor porpoises, California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: Pacific loons, Common loons, Eared grebes, Western grebes, Northern fulmars, Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Surf scoters, Black oystercatchers, Herring gulls, Western gulls, and Common murres.


Date: January 3 & 4, 2015

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed southwest under sunny skies, light winds, and small swells. Approximately seven miles west of Half Moon Bay, the boat spotted a pair of gray whales and another individual whale. The boat followed this group and another two gray whales for about 40 minutes. During this time, passengers sighted another 8-10 whales all around the boat for the remainder of the trip.

Participants on Sunday’s trip also enjoyed sunny skies and flat seas. Passengers were able to spot four gray whalesthroughout the trip. The first pair was somewhat far off, but passengers were able to get good looks at a second pair.

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included harbor porpoises, California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: Eared grebes, Western grebes, Black-vented shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Surf scoters, Heerman’s gulls, California gulls, Western gulls, and Common murres.


Date: December 27 & 28, 2014

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour, the first of the season, headed southwest under beautiful, sunny skies and encountered four gray whales traveling together. The encounter lasted for about an hour. Participants also viewed three harbor porpoises as they returned to Pillar Point.

Participants on Sunday’s trip also enjoyed sunny skies and flat seas. They were able to view two gray whales and 11 harbor porpoises.

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included California sea lions and harbor seals.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: Pacific loons, common loons, eared grebes, western grebes, black-vented shearwaters, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, pelagic cormorants, surf scoters, Heerman’s gulls, California gulls, herring gulls, western gulls, and common murres.

Author

Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.