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Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watch Sightings: January 7th, 2018

By Chris Biertuempfel

As we boarded the Salty Lady on Sunday afternoon, Captain Jared Davis informed us there had been 3 gray whales and a feeding humpback about 9 miles offshore that morning so we set off for that area in hopes that more whales would come through.

This decision paid off as we approached the area and small blows were visible on the horizon. We found presumably the same humpback from the morning trip as well as 2 migrating gray whales. During an extended viewing that lasted well over an hour, the humpback repeatedly dove and lunged at the surface to feed.

A humpback whale lunge feeds at the surface. © Chris Biertuempfel

As the humpback pushed schools of fish from deeper waters, opportunistic gulls and sea lions took advantage of the easy hunting conditions on the surface. If you look very closely in the photo below, there is a small fish in this California sea lion’s mouth.

A California sea lion and a host of gulls feed at the surface. © Chris Biertuempfel

Eventually the feeding frenzy died down and the grouping of marine mammals and birds went their own way. Whenever the humpback came back to the surface, the gulls would fly over to see if any food was nearby in a burst of activity before returning to float at the surface.

Gulls fly over a lone humpback whale searching for fish. © Chris Biertuempfel

Perhaps this humpback was still feeding deep in the water column but we didn’t witness any other surface feeding activity from this individual. As the sun lowered in the sky, we had some spectacular views of the humpback fluking on its way to a deep dive.

A humpback whale flukes majestically in the fading light. © Chris Biertuempfel

A blow on the horizon led us to a new area farther north than we had been earlier. As we got closer, it became clear that there must be incredible feeding conditions at this location because there were thousands and thousands of birds present. We did get a distant view of a humpback but the majority of the time at this spot we sat in awe of the bird activity.

Thousands of birds blanket the waters in Half Moon Bay. © Chris Biertuempfel

After cruising through this area for a time, we had to return to port. On the way, we caught one last glimpse of another humpback whale. That sighting brought our trip total to 3 humpbacks and 2 grays and as we approached the dock, passengers and crew excitedly recounted events from another exciting day on the water.

In total we saw:

  • 3 humpback whales
  • 2 gray whales
  • California sea lions
  • Sea nettle jellyfish
  • Northern Fulmars
  • Rhinoceros Auklets
  • Sooty Shearwaters
  • Brandt’s Cormorants
  • and Brown Pelicans

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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