Within an hour of leaving San Francisco Bay we had our first sighting on a trip that witnessed over 100 humpback whales. At 8:48am we came across a pair of humpbacks surfacing and feeding together. 15 minutes after we first spotted them, these whales began surfacing separately, close to each other but at different intervals. We were able to tell the two apart only due to their distinctly different dorsal fins visible when surfacing.
>> Click here to see all the photos and three videos from this trip.
At 9:45 we spotted another pair of whales on the southern
horizon as we moved west. It was two more humpback whales that were feeding
near the surface. Repeatedly we witnessed them lunge feed together, coming
straight up out of the ocean with mouths full of fish while scrambling seabirds
swooped into the area scooping up any leftovers.
In addition to lunge feeding, we saw many whales fluking and
taking deep dives. Between a few photographers on board, we accumulated
hundreds of fluke ID photos, which led to positive identifications of 25
individual whales. If you’re interested in how we identify individual whales on
Oceanic Society trips, you can read up on the process here.
The highlight of the trip came after we circled the Farallon Islands and went out to the continental shelf where the ocean floor goes from 300 feet to 3000 very rapidly. Here we soon came across a number of humpbacks and at least 15 were visible all over the horizon for well over two hours. Huge columns of baitfish about 100 feet deep were present in this area and we watched groups of 8-10 humpback whales dive (presumably to feed on the baitfish schools) and then return a few minutes later to catch their breath by floating at the surface. They did this over and over and we simply floated, engines off, and enjoyed the show.
In total we saw over 100 humpback whales displaying all sorts of surfacing behavior including lunge feeding, pec-slapping, breaching, and fluking. We also witnessed 8 blue whales traveling along the continental shelf surfacing in tandem. It was a remarkable day.
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.