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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: October 1, 2016

By Chris Biertuempfel

The first humpback whale was seen just outside the Golden Gate. © Chris Biertuempfel

Our Farallon Islands whale watching trip on Saturday, October 1 departed from Sausalito under calm conditions. Without the usual morning fog, visibility was excellent and we made our first sighting a few miles outside of San Francisco Bay. It was a single humpback whale that surfaced several times around the boat. The whale eventually moved on and spouted behind us, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Shortly after, we came across another humpback with very distinctive white markings around the dorsal fin. After a brief viewing of this unique whale we continued west towards the Farallones.

Two humpback whales just outside the Golden Gate, one with distinctive white markings. © Chris Biertuempfel

>> See all the photos from this trip on Flickr.

With the islands just visible in the distance, we came across a stretch of ocean visibly churned up by a large pod of dolphins. Upon closer inspection, they were Risso’s dolphins, easily distinguished from other species by their head shape and striking coloration. We observed the pod sporadically surfacing, diving, and breaching for around 45 minutes. Two to three times during this encounter, the forward progress of the pod ceased and the dolphins swam into a frenzied circle with fins and tails visibly thrashing. Our naturalist Susan Sherman reported that these scenes were examples of amorous behavior, a key component of the year-round mating habits of dolphins.

We watched a large, active group of Risso's dolphins for about 45 minutes. © Chris Biertuempfel

In the vicinity of the Risso’s dolphins we also witnessed northern right whale dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, and Pacific white-sided dolphins. After these incredible sightings we arrived at the northern Farallon Islands and saw a group of steller and California sea lions hauled out on the rocks just above the water line.

The Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

From here, we traveled out to the continental shelf in hopes of finding more whales and sea birds. We found both. A Black-footed Albatross soared into view minutes after we reached the shelf. Soon afterwards our attention was drawn to an acrobatic humpback whale splashing off in the distance. As we got closer, this behavior continued and we saw this juvenile humpback breach nearly 10 times.

This juvenile humpback whale breached several times. © Chris Biertuempfel

After watching the breaching whale, we motored over to Southeast Farallon Island and saw colonies of northern fur seals, steller sea lions, and California sea lions. We also spotted a lone Peregrine Falcon circling above our vessel before returning to the rocky island where a Brown Pelican was resting. Returning to port we encountered two additional humpback whales, with rainblow blows—in the sunlight—as they prepared to dive. A beautiful end to a fantastic day.

We saw 25 humpback whales throughout the trip. © Chris Biertuempfel

In total we saw:

  • 25 humpback whales
  • 1 blue whale
  • 1 gray whale
  • 100 Risso’s dolphins
  • 25 Dall’s porpoises
  • 15 pacific white sided dolphins
  • 10 northern right whale dolphins
  • 10 harbor porpoises
  • California sea lions
  • Steller sea lions
  • Northern fur seals
  • Harbor seals
  • 1 Black-footed Albatross
  • Brown Pelicans
  • Pink-footed Shearwaters
  • 1 Peregrine Falcon
  • Sooty Shearwaters
  • Surf Scoters
  • Black Oystercatchers
  • Brandt’s Cormorants

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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