Following are the naturalists' sightings reports from our Half Moon Bay gray whale watching programs during April 2015.
Date: April 25 & 26, 2015
Saturday's gray whale watching trip headed south from Pillar Point Harbor, and encountered a migrating gray whale cow with her calf. The boat followed the pair at a safe distance for 45 minutes from the Ritz Carlton back to Pillar Point Harbor. Although they could not confirm nursing, passengers were able to see the pectoral flippers of the calf. The group also saw 6 California sea lions. One, on the rock at the mouth of Pillar Point Harbor, had an orange tag on the right front flipper. There were also 3 harbor seals. Birds spotted included 2 Pacific loons, 20 western grebe, 40 double breasted cormorants, 6 surf scoter, 20 western gulls, 2 Caspian terns and 60 common murres.
Sunday’s boat had really choppy seas, with conditions getting worse as the trip progressed. The boat headed south, with no whales spotted the first half of the trip. As they turned to head back, they saw a cow/calf pair of gray whales and observed them for roughly 30 minutes. There appeared to be another cow/calf pair nearby, but passengers saw only one blow, possibly due to the churning winds and whitecaps. Passengers saw California sea lions lounging on the buoy, and 2 harbor porpoises. Harbor seals were spotted in the harbor. Bird watchers saw common loon, eared grebe, brown pelicans, double breasted cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, California gull, western gull, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Date: April 11 & 12, 2015
Both Saturday's and Sunday's gray whale watching trips enjoyed beautiful sunny weather and relatively calm seas. Saturday's group headed northwest to the buoy, then south 5 miles. They spotted a cow-calf pair of gray whales just 25 yards from the boat and followed them for 20 minutes, enjoying good views of the whales' backs and blows. The group also saw Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures who are part of a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish), California sea lions, harbor seals and about 20 harbor porpoises.
Bird watchers saw red-throated loon, pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, black oystercatcher, California gull, western gull, Caspian tern, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Sunday produced more sunny, clear skies with occasional 3-foot swells. The boat headed south along the shore, then northwest to the buoy and continued 5 miles. The group saw a cow-calf pair and followed them for over 45 minutes. Passengers enjoyed seeing the backs and blows of the mother and calf as they swam. Along the way were California sea lions, harbor seals, and 15 harbor porpoises. Bird sightings included: common loon, brown pelican, surf scoter, black oystercatcher, western gull, Caspian tern, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Date: April 4 & 5, 2015
Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching tour group headed south 5 miles, staying about 2 miles off shore, then turned north 7 miles before returning to the harbor. It was a beautiful day, and they found one gray whale who produced two blows but saw only the whale’s back.
The Saturday afternoon group headed 2 miles offshore, then 7 miles north, returning back to the harbor. Two gray whales at the bow blew twice, then disappeared. Both morning and afternoon groups saw Fucellia evermanni (kelp fly) and Velella velella, the electric blue, glass-like sea creatures who are a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish. Also spotted were California sea lions, harbor seals and 15 harbor porpoises.
Birds sighted included pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, white winged scoter, black oystercatcher, California gull, western gull, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Sunday’s group headed south with overcast skies but calm seas. They saw one gray whale heading north, turned to parallel the whale’s path and stayed with that whale for 40 minutes as it slowly headed north, taking a breath every 4 minutes. They later turned and headed south to continue the search, then returned to the dock as it started to rain. Passengers saw 50 Velella velella and 15 California sea lions.
Bird watchers saw Pacific loons, common loons, an eared grebe, double breasted cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, California gulls and western gulls, common murre, thick billed murre and 6 pigeon guillemots.
Nancy Heaton is Oceanic Society's former Local Programs Coordinator based in Ross, CA, USA.