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Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watch Sightings: January 14, 2017

By Chris Biertuempfel

On Saturday, January 14, 2017, Oceanic Society welcomed fellow ocean conservationists from the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones Association on our gray whale watching tour from Half Moon Bay. The gray whales’ migration (one of the longest migrations of any mammal) off the coast of California is a great reminder of the positive impacts of conservation efforts locally and abroad.

A beautiful view looking back at the coastline. © Chris Biertuempfel

The weather conditions were ideal as we boarded the Salty Lady. Motoring west out of Pillar Point Harbor we noticed a pair of sea lions hauled out on a buoy. The sea lions leaned over the side and watched us watch them. During this encounter, our captain spotted a whale spout on the northern horizon and waited as it headed our way.

California sea lions hauled out on a buoy. © Chris Biertuempfel

Within a few minutes, 2 gray whales came into view traveling together on their southern migration. Clearly intent on traveling, the whales briskly swam past, surfacing about every 5 to 7 minutes. We were able to watch these grays for around 20 minutes and had excellent views of their heavily-barnacled, mottled sides.

One of two migrating gray whales seen on the trip. © Chris Biertuempfel

After these gray whales passed, wildlife sightings included harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and California and Steller sea lions. Also, there was a great diversity of seabirds, including a rare visitor across the street from the harbor, a Ross Gull far from its Arctic home.

A Ross Gull, far from its Arctic home. © Chris Biertuempfel

In total we saw:

  • 2 gray whales
  • 3 California sea lions
  • 1 Stellar sea lion
  • 1 harbor seal
  • 2 harbor porpoises

And a number of bird species:

  • Common Loon
  • Western Grebe
  • Northern Fulmar
  • Brown Pelican
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Brandt's Cormorant
  • Surf Scoter
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Western Gull
  • Common Murre
  • Ross Gull

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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