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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: September 2014

By Brian Hutchinson

September 2014 was an exciting month for wildlife sightings on our Farallon Islands whale watching programs. Following is a trip by trip summary of wildlife sightings reports from our naturalists.

A humpback breach captured on September 15, 2014. © Izzy Szczepaniak

Date: Saturday, September 28, 2014
Naturalist: Pete Winch
Highlights: Sightings of humpback whales, 30 Mola mola, and a pod of Risso's dolphins

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise had a pleasant day on the water with light winds, long, low swells, and good visibility. Approximately 6 miles West of the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers encountered one humpback whale showing it back and blows. This encounter lasted 20 minutes. Approximately 12 miles from the Golden Gate, a humpback cow/calf pair was spotted swimming close to each other. At one point, the calf showed the underside of its fluke.

Other marine mammals spotted throughout the trip included Harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and northern fur seals. Two ocean sunfish ( Mola mola) were also spotted during the day.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Pink footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Buller's shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatchers, Red-necked phalaropes, Parasitic jaegers, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Elegant terns, Common murres, Cassins auklets, Rhinoceros auklets, and the Northern gannett.


Date: Saturday, September 21, 2014
Naturalist: Susan Sherman
Highlights: Sightings of a minke whale, 5 humpback whales, and a breaching thresher shark

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise had a pleasant day on the water with light winds, long, low swells, and good visibility. Approximately 6 miles West of the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers encountered one Humpback whale showing it back and blows. This encounter lasted 20 minutes. Approximately 12 miles from the Golden Gate, a Humpback cow/calf pair was spotted swimming close to each other. At one point, the calf showed the underside of its fluke.

Other marine mammals spotted throughout the trip included Harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, Harbor seals, and Northern fur seals. Two Ocean sunfish were also spotted during the day.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Pink footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Buller's shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatchers, Red-necked phalaropes, Parasitic jaegers, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Elegant terns, Common murres, Cassins auklets, Rhinoceros auklets, and the Northern gannett.


Date: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Naturalist: Roger Harris
Highlights: Sightings of 3 humpback whales, including a calf/cow pair

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise had a pleasant day on the water with light winds, long, low swells, and good visibility. Approximately 6 miles West of the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers encountered one Humpback whale showing it back and blows. This encounter lasted 20 minutes. Approximately 12 miles from the Golden Gate, a Humpback cow/calf pair was spotted swimming close to each other. At one point, the calf showed the underside of its fluke.

Other marine mammals spotted throughout the trip included Harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, Harbor seals, and Northern fur seals. Two Ocean sunfish were also spotted during the day.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Pink footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Buller's shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatchers, Red-necked phalaropes, Parasitic jaegers, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Elegant terns, Common murres, Cassins auklets, Rhinoceros auklets, and the Northern gannett.


Date: Saturday, September 14, 2014
Naturalist: Izzy Szczepaniak
Highlights: Sightings of 9 humpback whales and one minke whale

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed North along the coast towards Bolinas and then West to Southeast Farallon Island. A single Humpback whale was spotted making feeding runs about two miles off the beach. Passengers got good looks at the flukes each time the whale made a dive. At the islands, passengers observed thousands of sea birds, including the Northern gannett. Upon leaving the islands, a Minke whale was spotted and observed traveling in the calm waters. Five more Humpbacks were observed around the islands, including one that breached a dozen times. On the way back to San Franciso another Humpback whale was observed breaching about a mile from the boat. As the boat moved closer, the whale was seen breaching approximately 20 times. Just before entering the bay, two more Humpback whales were seen just South of Seal Rocks.

Other marine mammals spotted included 15 Harbor porpoise, Harbor seals California sea lions, Steller sea lions, and Northern Fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Western grebes, Northern fulmars, Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Phalarope sp., Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Elegant terns, Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Cassin's auklets, and Rhinoceros auklets.


Date: Saturday, September 13, 2014
Naturalist: Susan Sherman
Highlights: Sightings of 2 humpback whales and 15-20 long beaked common dolphins

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed west to Southeast Farallon Islands in calm seas and good visibility. Approximately 5 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers spotted a humpback whale and her calf feeding. Passengers got good looks at their blows, backs, and flukes. Approximate 15-20 long beaked common dolphins were also seen riding the bow waves of the boat.

Other marine mammals spotted throughout the trip included over 20 harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and northern fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Western grebes, Northern fulmars, Sooty shearwaters, Buller's shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatchers, Red phalaropes, Parasitic jaegers, Heerman's gulls, California gulls, Western gulls, Caspian terns, Elegant terns, Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Cassins auklets, Rhinoceros auklets, and Tufted puffins.


Date: Saturday, September 7, 2014
Naturalist: Susan Sherman
Highlights: Sightings of 16 humpback whales, 25-35 Risso's dolphins, several Mola mola (ocean sunfish), and two great white shark fins

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise left the Clipper Yacht Harbor in calm seas. Upon passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, passengers encountered four humpback whales feeding at the mouth of the bay. Passengers got good looks at their blows, backs, and flukes. After viewing these whales, the boat headed west towards Southeast Farallon Island. Approximately 3 miles East of the islands, a pod of 25-35 Risso's dolphins were spotted. At the islands, passengers spotted three tufted puffins in the water next to the boat, two great white shark fins at the surface of the water, and Northern fur seals swimming near the boat. At the continental shelf, 12 additional humpback whales were spotted approximately 5 miles West of Southeast Farallon Island. They were observed deep dive feeding, showing their backs, blows, and flukes. One of the whales was also observed breaching.

Other marine mammals spotted included harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and California sea lions. Also spotted during the trip were several Mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Northern fulmars, Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatchers, Red phalaropes, Heerman's gulls, California gulls, Western gulls, Caspian terns, Elegant terns, Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Rhinoceros auklets, and Tufted puffins.

Author

Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's director of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.