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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: June 6 & 7, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

A humpback whale fluke seen on June 7, 2015. © Izzy Szczepaniak

What a weekend for seeing marine life! Saturday's boat headed straight out to Southeast Farallon Islands (SEFI), with NW winds but south swell. Getting out of San Francisco Bay was choppy, but there was very little wind outside the bay and conditions improved greatly with some passengers describing the ocean conditions near the islands as glassy. High fog kept the sun from shining through, but the animals joined anyway.

From noon to 2:00 pm, passengers saw about 50 humpback whales and observed feeding and traveling behaviors. There were five separate encounters with 2-3 whales traveling parallel to the boat, about 40 feet away, as they dived for krill. These encounters lasted 10–40 minutes. Two females and a calf joined the boat for about 20 minutes as the calf breached twice, only 25 feet from the bow. The passengers saw dozens of whale blows and backs, almost too many to count! The boat spent about an hour at the islands, then turned SSW to the Continental Shelf, then returned to port. Two blue whales were seen as they crossed the bow, 9 miles SSW of SEFI, about half a mile away from the boat, but they stayed for only about 5 minutes. Other marine animals sighted included 4 large Stellar sea lion bulls tussling, 150 smaller California sea lions, 60 harbor seals, 35 northern fur seals, 30 harbor porpoises, about twenty thousand Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures who are part of a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish) and 20 ocean sunfish (Mola mola).

The Sunday group saw 31 humpback whales and 19 harbor porpoises. Eleven whales were identified by their unique fluke patterns! The afternoon ocean conditions were good with a swell of 2 feet, slight winds (10 knots), and glassy conditions often during the trip. Several times the fog greatly reduced visibility. The group also saw ocean sunfish, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, harbor seals and northern fur seals, harbor porpoises, and kelp flies (Fucillia evermanni)

This is seabird breeding season at the Farallones, and bird sightings were equally impressive. Passengers saw about 100,000 common murre, 200 pigeon guillemot, 2 rhinoceros auklet, Cassin's auklet, 8 tufted puffins, 3 blackfooted albatross, 1,000 western gulls, 20 California gulls, 30 Caspian terns, 12 elegant terns, 4 surf scoter, 250 double breasted cormorants, 200 Brandt's cormorants, 50 Pelagic cormorants, 50 brown pelicans, 2 common loons, 7 pink-footed shearwater, 19 sooty shearwater, black-vented shearwater, 10 western grebe and black-crowned night heron.

Author

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