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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: July 3, 2016

By Chris Biertuempfel

On the weekend of the 4th of July, the humpback whales in the SF Bay Area were in celebration mode, as Oceanic Society whale watches saw more than 135 humpbacks in two days!

Sunday, July 3rd’s trip got off to an excellent start as we encountered a lunge-feeding humpback about 30 minutes in. This individual continued to feed for over 15 minutes before taking a deep dive and leaving the area.

A lunge-feeding humpback on July 3, 2016. © Chris Biertuempfel

We continued on toward the Farallon Islands and had some unconfirmed sightings far off on the horizon, including reports of a breaching whale. These sightings were confirmed about a mile away from the Farallones when a massive humpback breached about 200 yards in front of our boat. A fast reacting passenger snapped a magnificent shot with only a moment’s notice, capturing the full breach.

Passenger David Herring captured this full breach on July 3. © David Herring

With everyone excited from the spectacle we arrived at the islands and were lucky enough to witness two special sea bird species: Tufted Puffin and Brown Booby. These beautiful birds were complemented by thousands of Common Murres and hundreds of cormorants seen swarming around the islands.

The rugged Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

After circling the leeward waters of the Farallones, we took a short trip to the continental shelf in search of more exotic birds. Instead we found a group of 4 humpback whales traveling in close proximity. As this group moved west, we spotted more humpbacks traveling together between the islands and our boat.

Two humpback whales in front of the Farallon Islands on July 3. © Chris Biertuempfel

At this time we needed to start heading back and we spotted 2 more humpbacks as we cruised back to San Francisco Harbor.

In total we saw:

  • 38 humpback whales
  • 1 gray whale
  • 9 harbor porpoises
  • California sea lion
  • Stellar sea lion
  • Harbor seal
  • Northern fur seal
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Brandt’s Cormorant
  • Pelagic Cormorant
  • Common Murre
  • Rhinoceros Auklet
  • Tufted Puffin
  • Brown Booby
  • Pigeon Guillemot
  • Caspian Tern
  • Elegant Tern

Chris Biertuempfel manages Oceanic Society’s California-based programs, continuing the non-profit’s tradition of ocean faring expeditions that began in 1972. Also, he leads whale-centric expeditions in California and Mexico as a naturalist. His work as a photographer from such trips has been featured in several media outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle and ABC News.


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