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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: July 17, 2015

By Nancy Heaton

The following sightings report is from Oceanic Society naturalist Alicia Retes.

Friday's Farallon Islands whale watching trip began with a smooth cruise out to the Golden Gate under an overcast morning sky. We immediately sighted a couple of harbor porpoises quickly "puffing" at the surface of the water on both sides of the Golden Gate. Captain Jared eased into Devil's Cove where passengers were delighted to view 30 to 50 harbor seals for about 20 minutes.

A pair of harbor seals in Devil's Cove. © Matthew Keller

About a mile and a half from the main shipping channel, a total of three humpbacks were snorkeling and showing their flukes while feeding on vast swarms of anchovies. One pair appeared to be a cow with an older calf foraging together. After about 20 minutes we continued toward the islands marveling at hundreds of birds bobbing in the water. Everyone was pleased when the captain stopped to view two or three tufted puffins among several marbled murrelets floating on the surface while gulls and common murres flew overhead.

Passengers were very helpful calling out the sightings of whales in relation to the position of the boat. At about a mile from the islands a passenger joyfully shouted, "a breach at 3:00!" It was wonderful watching three humpbacks simultaneously display the arches of their wide backs and flukes while feeding. They stayed about 300 feet from the boat for over 30 minutes. It was curious to see that the top of one dorsal fin was quite round like a golf ball.

Upon reaching the islands we were greeted by sunny skies and thousands of squawking, twittering, chattering birds, nesting, fishing and flying. I personally counted 60 brown pelicans nesting in amongst hundreds of cormorants along the northern steep cliff edges of Fisherman's Cove. Thousands of murres were clustered on the southern side of the cove with thousands of gulls dotting the open spaces everywhere. Hundreds of sea lions were barking, basking in the sun on the rocks and swimming in the water. Cruising along the southeastern side we were excited to see about 100 fur seals hauled out on the island.

Heading south about four miles from the islands we began looking for the blue whales. After about 30 minutes, we saw two, 30-foot blows of a blue whale but just as quickly it disappeared. The waters became choppy from unusual southerly winds so we headed back toward the Golden Gate. On our way, the captain stopped for us to see a six-foot Mola mola (ocean sunfish) sunning itself at the surface of the water. This large disk shape fish moved up along side the boat. We saw its large eye rolling around looking at us as we gazed back. After 10 minutes it swam under the boat to the other side pausing for one more look at the creatures in the boat before moving out to sea.

Island bird sightings included: thousands of common murres, western gulls, double breasted cormorants, Brandt's cormorants and pigeon guillemots, plus 60-100 nesting pelicans.

Thousands of seabirds are now nesting on the Farallon Islands. © Phillip Nicholas


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


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