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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: July 2, 2017

By Chris Biertuempfel

We began our 8 a.m. trip by circumnavigating Alcatraz Island before passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. Shortly thereafter, we noticed blows off Point Bonita and continued toward this area. Passengers at the front of the boat were fortunate to see a humpback whale breach completely out of the water. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly that photographers missed the opportunity. Fortunately, there would be additional opportunities to see acrobatic whale behavior later in the trip.

A breaching humpback caught us by surprise just outside the Golden Gate. © Chris Biertuempfel

In the following hour, we saw 10 additional humpback whales in and around the Golden Gate (the narrow section at the entrance to San Francisco Bay). Most whales appeared to be feeding, but we also witnessed several breaching events.

We saw more than 10 humpbacks near the Golden Gate Bridge. © Chris Biertuempfel

A humpback exhales in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. © Chris Biertuempfel

After the brilliant start to the trip, our focus shifted to reaching the Farallon Islands. Conditions were rough and windy on the open water. About 2.5 hours later we arrived at Southeast Farallon Island, with the highest reaches of the rocky cliff and lighthouse hidden in fog.

Thousands of Common Murres lined the Farallon Islands' rocky shores. © Chris Biertuempfel

Thousands of Common Murres lined the hillside and dotted the water around our boat. California sea lions swam by around curiously poked their heads above the water from time to time. As we toured around the islands, we encountered a lone Tufted Puffin riding the swells and periodically diving underwater.

A California sea lion near the Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

A Tufted Puffin seen near the Farallon Islands. © Chris Biertuempfel

Given the rough conditions we motored back towards the San Francisco Bay. We returned to the Golden Gate and discovered the whales were still there. 8-10 humpback whales were feeding and milling in all directions, with one whale in the distance creating large splashes. We took a closer look and this whale repeatedly slapped the surface with its broad tail and often breached out of the water.

A lob-tailing humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate. © Chris Biertuempfel

For the next 45 minutes we continued observing whales in the Golden Gate. Several whales were under the bridge and a few whales surfaced within San Francisco Bay. Our penultimate sighting of the day was a humpback diving underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, showing its beautiful, and identifying, tail. Each humpback whale can be identified by the unique pattern on the bottom (ventral) side of the fluke. Oceanic Society uses Happywhale to record whale sightings and we share our information with researchers and citizen scientists. Get on a boat and join us!

Sightings for July 2nd:

  • 2 gray whales
  • 8 harbor porpoises
  • 20 humpback whales
  • California sea lions
  • Harbor seals
  • Northern fur seals
  • Stellar sea lions
  • Brandts Cormorants
  • Black Oystercatchers
  • Brown Pelicans
  • Tufted Puffins
  • Elegant Terns

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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