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​Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watching Update: March 2018

By Chris Biertuempfel

In the course of the gray whale migration off the coast of California, there are 2 distinct legs of the journey. Whales begin by heading south, typically from Alaska down to Baja California, and then they make the reverse trip back north. Usually there is some overlap with the earliest gray whales heading north while the late comers have just begun traveling south. This year (2018) we’ve witnessed far less overlap among north- and southbound whales than in years past. Here is a quick update of what we’ve seen so far in Half Moon Bay (as of March 21, 2018).

Southbound gray whale flukes 9 miles offshore. © Chris Biertuempfel


In January and February, Oceanic Society whale watchers saw 25 gray whales, all traveling south along the California coast. The furthest sighting took place nearly 10 miles offshore, while the closest was within a few hundred yards of shore. The last southbound gray whale we spotted was on February 11th. Since then we have seen only grays traveling north on their way back from Mexico to Alaska.

Acrobatic breaching gray whale. Photo taken on March 17th. © Peter Winch


In the past few weeks, we have seen a dramatic uptick in sightings with more than 30 northbound gray whales spotted in just our last 6 trips. In addition to spotting more whales, we’ve seen an increase in charismatic behavior as well. Breaching, fluking and even what our naturalists describe as “amorous behavior” are becoming more common as the season goes along. Soon, we anticipate cow-calf pairs to begin passing through Half Moon Bay.

Gray whale descending from a mighty breach. © Austin Newton

Come join us on a 3-hour long whale watching cruise to view the gray whale migration as the weather and the whale sightings start to heat up. Our trips depart at 9:00am on Saturdays and Sundays. You can sign up here.


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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