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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
Chris Biertuempfel is Oceanic Society’s California programs coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area. He also serves as photographer and documentarian on our whale watching trips. Chris holds a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley and is based in our office in Ross, CA.