Following are the naturalists' sightings reports from our Half Moon Bay gray whale watching programs during February 2015.
Date: Feb 28 & March 1, 2015
Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed northwest on a day with early showers that cleared and produced lots of rainbows. One gray whale was spotted, probably heading north, but we lost it after a few blows. This continued with a second and third whale. We saw a few blows, but were unable to determine direction. When least expected, we found another whale about three miles from the harbor and were able to follow it for 35-40 minutes, seeing several breathing cycles and getting to see its head and back.
As is the nature of wildlife viewing, Saturday afternoon and Sunday’s trips were unable to find any whales. But Saturday we saw many California sea lions on the buoy and one large male hanging out at the dock. Saturday afternoon’s passengers had a spectacular day with great visibility and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sunday’s passengers saw 3 harbor porpoises, a harbor seal and a raft of roughly 700 feeding birds.
Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: 15 pelagic cormorants, 40 Brandt’s cormorants, 4 California gulls, 500 western gulls, 4 western grebes, 700 common murres, 20 surf scoters, 2 bufflehead ducks, 200 brown pelicans, 6 white wing scoters, 1 black oyster catcher.
Date: Feb 21 & 22, 2015
Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour initially encountered fog with poor visibility, but the captain found a section with overcast visibility leading to sunny skies, as the naturalist and passengers were able to study the geography of the coastline along Pedro Point, Bird Rock, and Devil’s Slide. Whale blows were sighted on three occasions, all within three miles of the harbor before spotting a southbound gray whale near the channel marker buoy. Bird watchers saw common loons, eared grebe, western grebe, surf scoter, more than 65 pelagic cormorants and 200+ gulls.
Participants on Sunday morning’s trip had sunny skies with swells of 4-6 feet. Passengers saw the first northbound gray whale migrants of the season. They sighted 6 blows early on, then later several blows and three whales, one showing flukes. Four California sea lions were also spotted lounging on the buoys. Two large bait balls (schools of tightly packed small fish clustered together in a spherical formation for protection) near the shore attracted hundreds of gulls and pelicans, and the pelicans were diving for fish. Other seabird sightings included common loons, western grebes, over 65 pelagic cormorants, 3 surf scooters, over 300 gulls and 200+ common murres.
Date: Feb 14 & 15, 2015
Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour headed out on clear, calm, sunny day. Within the first 30 minutes, a young gray whale, approximately 35 feet, swam about 150 feet from the boat and took 2-3 breath cycles before breaching. The group also saw a 14-16 foot ocean sunfish (also known as Mola mola), and 8 dolphins. Bird watchers saw common loons, western grebe, shearwater species, over 100 brown pelicans and over 25 pelagic cormorants.
Sunday morning’s trip headed north to Pedro Point, then out three miles and south to the harbor. The weather was sunny and beautiful all day with a swell of 2-4 feet,and winds at 5-10 knots. Passengers saw both a gray whale and three humpback whales as well as a California sea lion, a Steller sea lion, a harbor seal, a long-beaked common dolphin and a harbor porpoise.
Sunday afternoon’s trip headed out to the Pedro Point buoy, then followed a gray whale south for 30 minutes and moved out to see the three humpback whales before heading back to the harbor. Species of birds reported on both morning and afternoon trips included eared grebe, sooty shearwater, brown pelican, double-crested cormorant, surf scoter, Western gull and common murre.
Nancy Heaton is Oceanic Society's former Local Programs Coordinator based in Ross, CA, USA.