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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: July 29, 2016

By Chris Biertuempfel

A humpback whale near San Francisco. © Chris Biertuempfel

We didn’t wait long for our first whale sighting on our July 29 Farallon Islands whale watching trip. About 5 minutes in, we spotted a lone humpback whale near Alcatraz Island. It was a brief encounter and this individual appeared to move out of the area on a deep dive. However, as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, we spotted perhaps the same humpback, traveling west near Fort Point. The whale surfaced a few times and then disappeared from view as we left the bay.

>> Click here to see all the photos from this trip.

The conditions were remarkably calm, with a layer of fog on the water. This didn’t prevent us from seeing a massive blue whale about 55 minutes into the trip. The largest animal on Earth cruised through the water slowly, but powerfully, surfacing every few minutes with towering blows. The whale eventually dove and flashed its impressive fluke (tail) before sliding under the water.

The fluke of a blue whale, one of 20 seen on July 29. © Chris Biertuempfel

After the fluking blue whale, we continued our course west-southwest in a straight shot towards the Farallon Islands. On the way, we witnessed several more blue whales and an ocean sunfish. Upon arrival at Southeast Farallon Island we saw an amazing diversity of seabirds, highlighted by a nearby floating Tufted Puffin.

A beautiful Tufted Puffin. © Chris Biertuempfel

Circumnavigating the islands we saw California and Steller sea lions swimming and hauled out on shore. Also during this time, our sharp-eyed skipper spotted a rare species far from its Central and South American territory—the Blue-footed Booby.

A Blue-footed Booby at the Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

On our departure from the Farallon Islands, we saw approximately twelve more blue whales and close to twenty humpbacks, in a dense concentration around 2 miles east of the islands. A wave of excitement went around the boat when our naturalist revealed one of the whales we were watching was a fin whale.

A blue whale in front of the Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

The unique fluke of a humpback whale. © Chris Biertuempfel

A rare fin whale seen near the Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

We observed the fin whale for a few minutes as it traveled and ultimately surfaced about 150 yards from the boat. Upon return and reviewing my photos, we confirmed there were two fin whales, due to a distinct notch in the dorsal fin present in one fin whale but not the other.

The two fin whales were an exciting finale to an eventful day on the water. We returned to San Francisco Harbor around 4:00pm to find the fog had lifted, revealing a beautiful sunny day.

This trip was highlighted by sightings of:

  • 20 blue whales
  • 20+ humpback whales
  • 2 fin whales
  • 1 Blue-footed Booby
  • 10+ Tufted Puffin
  • 1 ocean sunfish (Mola mola)

This trip also saw:

  • Common Murres
  • Brandt’s Cormorants
  • Pigeon Guillemots
  • Western Gulls
  • Rhinoceros Auklets
  • Cassin’s Auklets
  • Western Gulls
  • Brown Pelicans
  • And more!

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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