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Jun 5 2015 (All day)
Saturday’s Farallon Islands Whale Watching Trip headed out on calm seas to the Southeast Farallon Islands (SEFI), then moved to the continental shelf drop off, then 8 miles south. Passengers observed: 1. two very large Stellar sea lions chasing each other near Sugarloaf at SEFI, 2. several very large (1,000 lbs.) mola mola or ocean sunfish (the heaviest known bony fish in the world) right by the boat, and 3. dolphins riding the bow. At different times, the group spotted 8 humpback whales, with 1 pair being a juvenile and an adult. The tail of the juvenile was damaged showing he had been attacked by an orca at some point, but the wound had healed, not fresh.
The whales arrived at different times. First was a single whale spotted about 7 miles southwest of the islands, showing backs and blows; then 2 whales showing backs, blows and flukes. Another 2 whales arrived a mile later, one being the juvenile with major raking on the underside of the tail from the attack, 2 more whales were sighted another mile later, and a final whale exhibiting feeding behavior at the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. Additional sightings included: California sea lions, northern (Stellar) sea lion, 5-10 harbor seals, and 10 harbor porpoise, Aurelia aurita (moon jelly), Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures belonging to a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish), and fucellia evermanni (kelp fly). Bird sightings included: western grebe, black-footed albatross, sooty shearwater, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, black oyster catcher, California gull, western gull, elegant tern, common murre, pigeon guillemot, Cassin’s auklet, rhinoceros auklet, and a tufted puffin.
Sunday’s group headed out with a high fog, slight winds and calm, flat glassy seas, and were rewarded throughout the day with a total of 25 humpback whales! An abundance of mackerel just past Point Bonita, attracted the first humpback whale and the boat stayed with him for 30 minutes. Between Point Bonita and the Golden Gate Bridge, two large container ships passed and were within just a few hundred meters of the animal. Passengers also observed 5 harbor porpoises, probably feeding on the mackerel as well. The boat continued west 20 miles and observers saw 2 humpbacks drifting lazily at the surface, dropping down slowly and coming back up 50 meters away. The captain shut the motors off and passengers watched the whales as they spyhopped, popping up on different sides of the boat. Near the edge of the continental shelf, the boat was surrounded by over 20 humpback whales in all directions, breaching and spyhopping. The captain shut off the engines, and the two closest whales continued to swim around the boat in a spiraling fashion until they finally swam under the boat. Whale watching activities were interrupted three times as a black-footed albatross appeared and floated by the boat. Additional marine animals included a leatherback turtle, several ocean sunfish (mola molas) and a northern fur seal hanging out in the jug-handle position where the head, both hind flippers and a fore flipper were waving in the air.
By the Southeast Farallon Islands, passengers were greeted by hundreds of thousands of breeding birds either sitting on their nests or foraging in the waters around the islands. The sea was calm enough to navigate around the entire island. Most of the bird species that breed on the islands were seen, including a perennial crowd pleaser: tufted puffins. Other birds sighted were: western grebe, sooty shearwater, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Bradt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, western gull, royal tern, common murre, pigeon guillemot, Cassin’s auklet and rhinoceros auklet.
On the ride back to San Francisco passengers saw 2 more humpback whales and at least 20 harbor porpoises.
May 3 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Saturday’s gray whale watching trip headed south out of the harbor with calm, overcast skies that cleared by late morning. The group found a total of 4 cow/calf pairs of gray whales! After the first hour, they found one cow with her calf traveling slowly north near the surface. Passengers saw lots of backs and blows. The boat slowly followed the pair for more than an hour, then picked up three more pairs just north of the marina in the reef area and watched them before turning and heading back to harbor. There may have been a fifth pair, but only one whale was easily identifiable. The calf, if present, was too far away to be seen. Bird watchers got to see common loon, eared grebe about 50 western grebes, 50 brown pelicans, several double breasted cormorants, Brandt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, white winged scoter, black oystercatcher, California gull, western gull, thick billed murre and pigeon guillemot.
Sunday afternoon’s group saw two gray whales. Two hours into the trip, they sighted a cow/calf pair four miles south of the harbor and just half a mile off the beach. The cow did one full breach then took the calf right by the beach - there were great sightings of both animals, which were observed spyhopping and rolling. A crew member sighted the calf suckling but only a few on board saw the calf nursing. The boat stayed with the pair for 40 minutes as they moved north. Passengers also saw a harbor porpoise and two California sea lions and a harbor seal. Birds sighted included: 5 western grebes, 200 common murre, 25 pigeon guillemot, 80 western gulls, 150 double crested cormorants, 50 Brandts cormorants, 60 Pelagic cormorants, 20 common loons, 30 brown pelicans, 2 California gulls and 8 surf scoter.
Apr 26 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Saturday’s gray whale watching trip headed south from Pillar Point Harbor, and encountered a migrating gray whale cow with her calf. The boat followed the pair at a safe distance for 45 minutes from the Ritz Carlton back to Pillar Point Harbor. Although they could not confirm nursing, passengers were able to see the pectoral flippers of the calf. The group also saw 6 California sea lions. One, on the rock at the mouth of Pillar Point Harbor, had an orange tag on the right front flipper. There were also 3 harbor seals. Birds spotted included 2 pacific loons, 20 western grebes, 40 double breasted cormorants, 6 surf scoters, 20 western gulls, 2 Caspian terns and 60 common murres.
Sunday’s boat had really choppy seas, with conditions getting worse as the trip progressed. The boat headed south, with no whales spotted the first half of the trip. As they turned to head back, they saw a cow/calf pair of gray whales and observed them for roughly 30 minutes. There appeared to be another cow/calf pair nearby, but passengers saw only one blow, possibly due to the churning winds and whitecaps. Passengers saw California sea lions lounging on the buoy, and 2 harbor porpoises. Harbor seals were spotted in the harbor. Birdwatchers saw common loon, eared grebe, brown pelicans, double breasted cormorant, pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, California gull, western gull, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Apr 19 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Saturday’s gray whale watching trip had calm seas and headed out about a mile from shore, going south 12 miles along the coast. Around Martin’s Beach, the boat headed farther west, then north back to the harbor. As sometimes happens with wild animals, there were no whales spotted this trip. However, the boat pulled up so passengers could see Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures that belong to a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish), California sea lions and 2 harbor porpoises. Bird watchers saw common loons, Clark’s grebes, brown pelicans, double breasted cormorants, pelagic cormorants, surf scoters in the harbor, black oystercatchers, western gulls and over 100 common murres.
The morning boat on Sunday headed to Pillar Point buoy under mostly sunny skies with pleasant temperatures, winds of 5-10 knots and swell of 2-3 feet; then headed south to Martin’s Beach. They spotted a cow/calf gray whale pair with the mother nursing her calf, and followed them north to the harbor. The group saw Velella velella, California sea lions, harbor seals, and 3 harbor porpoises. The Sunday afternoon trip also saw Velella velella, California sea lions, harbor seals, but only 2 harbor porpoises and, unfortunately, no whales.
Birds on Sunday’s trips included common loon, eared grebe, western grebe, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, western gull, common murre, pigeon guillemot and Cassin’s auklet.
Apr 12 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Both Saturday’s and Sunday’s gray whale watching trips enjoyed beautiful sunny weather and relatively calm seas. Saturday’s group headed northwest to the buoy, then south 5 miles. They spotted a cow-calf pair of gray whales just 25 yards from the boat and followed them for 20 minutes, enjoying good views of the whales' backs and blows. The group also saw Velella velella (the floating electric blue, glass-like sea creatures who are part of a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish), California sea lions, harbor seals and about 20 harbor porpoises.
Bird watchers saw red-throated loon, pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, black oystercatcher, California gull, western gull, Caspian tern, common murre and pidgeon guillemot.
Sunday produced more sunny, clear skies with occasional 3-foot swells. The boat headed south along the shore, then northwest to the buoy and continued 5 miles. The group saw a cow-calf pair and followed them for over 45 minutes. Passengers enjoyed seeing the backs and blows of the mother and calf as they swam. Along the way were California sea lions, harbor seals, and 15 harbor porpoises. Bird sightings included: common loon, brown pelican, surf scoter, black oystercatcher, western gull, Caspian tern, common murre and pidgeon guillemot.
Apr 5 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching group headed south 5 miles, staying about 2 miles off shore, then turned north 7 miles before returning to the harbor. It was a beautiful day, and they found one gray whale who produced two blows but saw only the whale’s back.
The Saturday afternoon group headed 2 miles offshore, then 7 miles north, returning back to the harbor. Two gray whales at the bow blew twice, then disappeared. Both morning and afternoon groups saw Fucellia evermanni (kelp fly) and Velella velella, the electric blue, glass-like sea creatures who are a diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish. Also spotted were California sea lions, harbor seals and 15 harbor porpoises.
Birds sighted included pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, white winged scoter, black oystercatcher, California gull, western gull, common murre and pigeon guillemot.
Sunday’s group headed south with overcast skies but calm seas. They saw one gray whale heading north, turned to parallel the whale’s path and stayed with that whale for 40 minutes as it slowly headed north, taking a breath every 4 minutes. They later turned and headed south to continue the search, then returned to the dock as it started to rain. Passengers saw 50 Velella velella and 15 California sea lions.
Bird watchers saw Pacific loons, common loons, an eared grebe, double breasted cormorant, Bradt’s cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, California gulls and western gulls, common murre, thick billed murre and 6 pigeon guillemots.
Mar 29 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Participants on Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed slowly south about 15 miles, then north again to the harbor. The morning was nice with a few whitecaps and swell, but the trip got rougher heading north again, with more wind and lots of whitecaps and swell in the afternoon. As sometimes happens with wild animals, there were no whales to be seen. The group saw 15 California sea lions at the harbor entrance and at the buoys.
Participants on Sunday’s trip saw 6 gray whales. They headed out under good weather conditions, although high swell of 4-6 feet prevented great photos. They moved south to the 1-S buoy, and spotted a single harbor porpoise near the buoy. As they turned north they spotted two blows and found a gray whale cow with a calf. The whales moved slowly but steadily north over the shallow rocky reefs that help create the huge Maverick waves, and then along the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. They surfaced at a steady rate, with the boat following them for 60 minutes, able to anticipate each surfacing series. Even closer to shore was another cow-calf pair. The boat stayed with the whales until they turned offshore heading in the direction of Point Reyes.
Other wildlife included Velella velella, the electric blue, glass-like sea creatures (part of the diverse phylum of animals including corals and jellyfish), normally found floating on the surface of warm and temperate oceans, and Fucellia evermanni or kelp fly.
Species of sea birds sighted on both trips included: common loons, a western grebe, 50 brown pelicans, 2 double breasted cormorants 3 Brandt’s cormorants, 6 pelagic cormorants, 15 surf scoter, a Heermann’s gull, California gull, western gull and common murre.
Mar 22 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Another spectacular weekend of whale watching! Saturday afternoon’s gray whale watching trip started off slowly, encountering two migrating whales heading north after about 45 minutes. The boat then headed south and found several groups of gray whales traveling north. Suddenly they found two different groups, about 200 yards from each other, exhibiting mating-like behavior, rolling around on top of each other, showing lots of flukes. A third whale started to approach, then left. Bird watchers enjoyed coot, brown pelican, double breasted cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, western gull and common gull sightings .
Sunday morning passengers left in good weather with some wind chop, spray, and 1 to 2 foot swells. The boat headed west 5 miles, then south 7 miles to the harbor with whale spouts everywhere and counted a total of 25 whales! Other unusual sights included a sea lion eating a leopard shark next to the boat. And three cows with their calves were sighted with calf heads breaching out of the water, then total breaching five times.
Sunday afternoon continued to be a beautiful day, sunny almost all day with only partly cloudy. Winds were light, less than 10 knots. Visibility was excellent with a swell of only 2 feet. The boat headed north to the PP buoy, followed whales north, went south, found more whales and followed them north for a time. The whales were rowdy, engaging in mating behavior, one breaching, another whale breached and the group observed one spy hopping whale. The boat headed south to Kelly’s Beach then north along coast.
Bird species sighted Sunday included Pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, double crested cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, bufflehead duck, black oystercatcher, western gull, common murre, thick-billed murre and pidgeon guillemot.
This incredible video from Sunday afternoon's encounter with mating gray whales was shared with us by Bobby Gendron, a passenger on that trip. After spotting the whales approximately 200 yards away, the captain shut off the engines and let the boat drift. Seemingly oblivious to us, the whales drifted alongside our boat for more than 30 minutes, coming within a few feet of us at one point.
Mar 15 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
This weekend was spectacular for marine mammal observation. Saturday morning’s conditions were perfect for sighting whales: clear skies, small swell and light winds. A total of nine gray whales and two humpbacks were reported. Twenty minutes after leaving Pillar Point Harbor the group encountered a humpback whale traveling north within a mile of land. The boat followed the whale for about 30 minutes during which time the whale dove numerous times lifting its flukes out of the water and allowing the group to get ID photos. A second humpback whale was seen, but the group was unable to re-sight it.
While following the humpback whale, a number of blows were seen in the distance. There were 2 groups of gray whales about 200 yards apart. Both groups were very active. Flippers and flukes were visible as the whales were rolling at the surface of the water. The boat headed toward one group and passengers could see that the whales were very close to one another and even touching each other as they rolled at the surface. Several times one of the whales swam on top of another whale pushing the other’s head under the water. While passengers watched the first whale group, the second group was engaging in the same type of behavior. The second group closed the distance between the groups and soon six animals were engaging in “rowdy” behavior that we associate with mating. On many occasions we saw whales turn on their sides with their small pectoral flippers raised. Several times, while rolling on their sides, one of the whales lifted its head above the surface water so that we could see its mouth and two throat grooves. The captain turned off the engines and sat still in the water while this “mating-like” behavior continued. A group of three whales came close to the boat and we saw a whale penis come out of the water confirming that this was mating behavior.
This “rowdy” activity continued for over an hour and then suddenly all activity stopped and the whales were gone.
Sunday morning’s group headed 5 miles west of the harbor and saw 15 gray whales rolling around and over each other right next to the boat, showing tails, flippers and backs. They followed the whales 7 miles north. Whales were spouting everywhere! And passengers saw one small spy hop and a horizontal breach by whales.
The Sunday afternoon group headed southwest for eight miles, then southeast five miles, then northwest three miles before heading back to the harbor. Passengers saw 10 whales, four were just 25 yards from the boat. Equally entertaining were lots of harbor porpoises and hundreds, if not thousands, of long-beaked common dolphins (with babies) actively feeding. The boat moved with the dolphin group for roughly an hour.
Bird species sighted over the weekend included pacific loon, common loon, eared grebe, brown pelican, double crested cormorant, Brandt’s cormorant, pelagic cormorant, surf scoter, buffelhead ducks, black oystercatcher, western gull, common murre, and pigeon guillemot.
Mar 8 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay
Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed out on a clear, calm, sunny day. Just offshore, passengers sighted a gray whale and watched for about 15 minutes. All saw blow, but hardly any of the whale was visible. Saturday afternoon’s group saw 4 gray whales; two surfaced repeatedly with good views of them sounding, swimming, and blowing. Both groups also saw California sea lions: two in the morning and four in the afternoon. Morning bird watchers saw common loons, 2 black vented shearwaters, 25 double breasted cormorants, 4 pelagic cormorants, 15 surf scoters, 3 Heermann’s gulls, 2 glaucous-winged gulls and 10 rhinoceros auklets. The afternoon group saw 2 red throated loons, a pacific loon and a common loon, 2 eared loons, 4 western grebes, 2 black-vented shearwaters, 25 brown pelicans, 25 double breasted cormorants, 30 Brandt’s cormorants, 5 pelagic cormorants, 12 surf scoters, 4 Herrmann’s gulls, 20 Western gulls, 4 glaucous winged gulls and 5 rhinoceros auklets.
Participants on Sunday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed out on another beautiful day with surface chop, a swell of 1-3 feet, and winds at 10 knots. The group traveled 5 miles past the Pedro Point buoy, then south to Martin’s beach and east a mile offshore before heading north back to the harbor. Two gray whales were seen and followed, one breached 7 times! Species of birds reported included a common loon, eared grebe and western grebe, brown pelicans, double breasted cormorant, surf scoter, Western gull and common murre.
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