Saturday, March 4th’s gray whale watching trip departed under scattered clouds and light rain. Fortunately, the rain only lasted five minutes. As we continued on, the skies cleared and conditions became very good for whale watching.
About 40 minutes into our trip we explored an area reported to have gray whales earlier in the morning and spotted a lone whale about 300 yards from the boat. After surfacing a few times this individual slipped underwater and wasn’t spotted again.
About 10 minutes later, a mile or so west of the first whale, we saw another gray whale on the horizon. It surfaced several times, not traveling in any consistent direction. Eventually it arched its back and dove, exposing the flukes.
A few minutes later, one whale surfaced nearby while another gray whale appeared on the southern horizon. Over the course of the next hour there were five more whales, all heading north. This time of year, the gray whales are migrating to their northern feeding grounds. We also witnessed a gray whale breach high out of the water and return with a giant splash.
As we headed back to port around 11:30, there were three blows (from three whales) between us and the harbor. Two of these whales moved on as suddenly as they were sighted, but one whale was briefly seen, strikingly white in its coloring.
On this day, we saw seven gray whales, one whale that was too far away to identify, and many Brandt’s Cormorants, Western Gulls and Common Murres. Near the harbor we also saw a number of California sea lions, including this large male hauled out on the dock.
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.