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Farallon Islands Whale Watch Sightings: August 2014

By Brian Hutchinson

A Risso's dolphin calf and mother seen on Aug 23, 2014. © Izzy Szczepaniak

Date: Saturday, August 30, 2014
Naturalist: Susan Sherman
Highlights: Sightings of three humpback whales and tufted puffins around the islands

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise left the dock under sunny skies and saw three humpback whales at the entrance to the Golden Gate. Passengers got good looks at their blows and flukes. One of the whales was also seen breaching.

Other marine mammals spotted on this trip included 15 harbor porpoises, harbor seals California sea lions, and Steller sea lions.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black oystercatcher, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, and Tufted puffins.


Date: Sunday, August 24, 2014
Naturalist: Alicia Retes
Highlights: Sightings of four humpback whales, numerous Mola mola (or ocean sunfish), and approximately 20 tufted puffins in the water around the islands

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise left the dock and immediately saw a black crown night heron fly overhead. The boat then headed west to Southeast Farallon Island. Approximately 20 tufted puffins were also seen in the water at the islands and one pair flew by the bow flashing their bright orange beaks. At the islands, participants saw many Mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish, including several juveniles swimming together like a bait ball with their small fins pointing up. The boat circled the islands twice before heading to the Continental Shelf. At the shelf, one humpback whale appeared and was seen diving. Three more humpback whales showed up and the passengers got good looks at their blows and flukes. One humpback was also seen breaching.

Other marine mammals spotted included harbor seals in Diablo Cove and at the islands, California sea lions, Steller sea lions porpoising in the water, and northern fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Sooty shearwaters, Ashy petrels, Brown pelicans, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Heerman's gulls, California gulls, Herring gulls, Western gulls, Common murres on the water with their chicks, Pigeon guillemots, Marbled murrelets, and Tufted puffins.


A humpback whale seen on Aug 11, 2014. © Matthew Keller

Date: Sunday, August 17, 2014
Naturalist: Nicole Larson
Highlights: Sightings of a pair of humpback whales traveling together that came within 100 yards of the boat

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed west to Southeast Farallon Island in calm seas. A pair of adult humpback whales were encountered traveling together. The boat was able to stay with them for approximately 30 minutes and passengers got good looks at their backs, blows, and flukes as they came within 100 yards of the boat.

Other marine mammals spotted included harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, harbor seals and northern fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Black-footed albatross, Pink-footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorant, Brandt's cormorant, Pelagic cormorants, California gulls, Herring gulls, Western gulls, Elegant Terns, Common murres on the water with their chicks, Pigeon guillemots, and Tufted puffins.


Date: Saturday, August 16, 2014
Naturalist: Izzy Szczepaniak
Highlights: Sightings of 70 Risso's dolphins with calves and two humpback whales

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed west in calm seas and good visibility. Passengers were treated to all 3 color forms of harbor seals at Diablo Point. After a quick ride out to Southeast Farallon Island, passengers viewed the northern gannett and then headed to the Continental Shelf. One humpback was found heading south along the shelf and passengers were able to view it's fluke and blows. The back and blows of another humpback was also seen. Upon leaving the islands, passengers had a great sighting of about 70 Risso's dolphins traveling with at least a dozen calves.

Other marine mammals spotted throughout the trip included harbor porpoise, California sea lions, including one eating a Mola mola, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and northern fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: Black-footed albatross, Northern fulmars, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black scoters, Surf scoters, Black oystercatchers, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Caspian terns, Elegant terns, 1,000's of Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Cassins auklets, Tufted puffins.


Harbor seals seen on August 11, 2014. © Matthew Keller

Date: Sunday, August 10, 2014
Naturalist: Izzy Szczepaniak
Highlights: Sightings of ten humpback whales within 100 feet of our boat

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed North along the Marin coast to Bolinas before turning west to North Farallon Island, south along the slope and then east to SEFI. The skies were overcast, with a high fog and 10 knot wind causing the sea to roll with swells of 2–4 feet.

On the way out, passengers viewed several harbor seals at Point Diablo and were excited to see all 3 color coats represented, white, black/white and red!

Ten humpbacks, including a mom-calf pair, approached within 100 feet of the boat, delighting passengers and offering a great show. One humpback was spotted just 4 miles west of the Golden Gate.

Other sightings included 8 ocean sunfish (Mola mola), a thresher shark, sea nettles, kelp flies, moon jellies and by-the-wind sailors.

Other marine mammals spotted included Harbor porpoise starting in the Bay and continuing throughout the trip, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, Harbor seals and Northern Fur seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: 2 Black-footed albatross, Pink-footed shearwater, Sooty shearwater, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorant, Brandt's cormorant, Pelagic cormorants, Phalarope sp., Western gulls, Elegant Terns, Common murre, Pigeon guillemot, Cassin's Auklet, Tufted puffins and the Northern Gannet; all were seen flying or rafting by the boat.


Date: Sunday, August 3, 2014
Naturalist: Eric Lichthwardt
Highlights: Sightings of 5 black footed albatross, 5 Mola mola and a northern gannett

Participants on Sunday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed North along the Marin coast in choppy waters before heading southwest to the Farallon Islands. During the trip, passengers spotted 5 Mola mola or ocean sunfish, including one that was approximately 6 feet long. Five black-footed albatross were seen flying over the boat and 4-5 tufted puffins were seen on the water. Passengers also spotted the blows of humpback whales in the distance.

Other marine mammals sighted harbor porpoise, California sea lions, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, and harbor seals.

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: 5 Black-footed albatross, Pink footed shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Cassin's auklets, and Tufted puffins.


Date: Saturday, August 2, 2014
Naturalist: Roger Harris
Highlights: Sightings of two humpback whales, one thresher shark, and at least 20 Mola mola

Participants on Saturday's Farallon Islands Nature Cruise headed North along the Marin coast in choppy waters before heading southwest to the Farallon Islands. On the way out, passengers viewed a thresher shark breaching twice. Later the boat stopped to look at a Mola mola, or ocean sunfish. During the course of the day, at least 20 Mola mola were spotted, some approximately 4 feet across. About 5 miles inside the islands a humpback whale was spotted and passengers were able to view it for about 20 minutes. A second humpback was spotted approximately 2 miles past the islands. The whale came within a body length of the boat and passengers were able to excellent close views of the animal.

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

Species of sea birds sighted on this trip included: One Black-footed albatross, Northern fulmars, Sooty shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, Pelagic cormorants, Black scoters, Surf scoters, Black oystercatchers, Heerman's gulls, Western gulls, Caspian terns, Elegant terns, 1,000's of Common murres, Pigeon guillemots, Cassins auklets, and 14 Tufted puffins seen rafting on the water and flying by the boat.

A tufted puffin in flight. © Matthew Keller

Author

Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president 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.