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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: June 20 & 21, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

A breaching humpback whale. © Peter Winch

Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed out in choppy seas with a 5 foot NW swell and 15 knot winds, but conditions improved during the day. The whales were abundant. Passengers saw 15–20 blue whales at the continental shelf! The captain shut off the engine and the group watched for about 85 minutes as the whales fed on a krill layer at a depth of 150-200 feet. The blue whales came within about 75 feet of the boat and displayed backs, blows and flukes while passengers listened to blows all around the boat. The boat also encountered 3 humpback whales a quarter mile west of Golden Gate Bridge in front of Baker Beach, showing backs, blows and flukes. At times, the whales came right up to the stopped boat. The encounter lasted about 15 minutes. Visitors also experienced great sightings of 10 ocean seafish (Mola mola), about 5,000 Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures that are port of a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish) and 5 fried egg jellyfish. Other marine mammals included: 300 California sea lions, 6 Steller (northern) sea lions, 60 harbor seals, 50 northern fur seals and 15 harbor porpoises.

Sunday's passengers saw more than 25 blue whales, spread out about a mile, actively feeding on krill. The photometer showed krill were down 100 ft. to 300 ft. In Fisherman Cove at the Farallon Islands, 2 full adult male Steller sea lions were posturing toward each other and at Mirounga Bay 3 tufted puffins were in the water. The boat headed southeast to the continental drop off, and 8 miles from the islands they met 5 humpbacks deep dive feeding on krill. One whale breached once and head slapped 3 times; they also saw 1 very large Mola mola (ocean sunfish). They traveled northeast and met a raft of about 25 California sea lions which began to porpoise along side the boat. Then, a small group of 15 white sided dolphins joined in and bow rode for a while. 12 black footed albatross arrived flying around or sitting on the water.

This is peak seabird breeding season at the Farallon Islands, and there were thousands of birds fishing, flying and sitting on nests. Bird sightings included: hundreds of thousands of common murres, along with 2,500 western gulls, 300 double breasted cormorants, 150 Brandt's cormorants, 100 Pelagic cormorants, hundreds of brown pelicans, 400 pigeon guillemots, western grebe, pink footed shearwater, sooty shearwater, surf scoter, California gull, Caspian tern, elegant tern, rhinoceros auklet, Hermann gulls and tufted puffin.

Author

Nancy Heaton is Oceanic Society's former Local Programs Coordinator based in Ross, CA, USA.