• About Us
  • Blog
  • Store
  • Contact
  • Login

Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watch Sightings: March 11, 2017

By Chris Biertuempfel

Traveling south out of Pillar Point Harbor, our March 11th whale watch trip began under blue skies. We spent the first 45 minutes trying to locate gray whales on their northern migration, but were not successful. No one knew the spectacular day of whale watching we had ahead of us.

At 9:50 am we spotted our first gray whale traveling north between our boat and the coast of Half Moon Bay. After repeatedly surfacing off the starboard bow, this whale dove underwater disappeared for ~4 minutes. Then, about 200 yards in front of the boat, the whale breached high out of the water.

A gray whale breaching off the coast of Half Moon Bay. © Chris Biertuempfel

With excitement mounting among the passengers, everyone speculated the whale would breach again. They were right. Over the course of the next hour, not one, but two gray whales repeatedly breached at least once every 5-10 minutes.

Gray whales rarely breach during their migrations. © Chris Biertuempfel

The whales showed a fairly predictable routine. Traveling

north, they would surface together and breathe every few minutes. Then, the

whales would both dive with one of the two usually returning to the surface

with a flourishing breach or spy hop (head out of the water).


A gray whale spy-hops above the surface. © Alicia Krueger

Breaching is a rare event for gray whales during their migrations. They usually elect to conserve energy for the long journey ahead. As we returned towards the harbor, large splashes were still visible periodically on the horizon.

In total we saw two breaching gray whales on March 11. © Chris Biertuempfel

Over the course of the day, we saw 3 gray whales—with the two breaching individuals capturing most of our attention. There were also Brandt’s, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants; Common Loons; Pigeon Guillemots; and Surf Scoters throughout the day. Other marine mammal sightings included harbor porpoises and California and Steller sea lions. This Steller sea lion was on a buoy just before completing the trip back in Pillar Point Harbor.

A Steller sea lion on a buoy. © Chris Biertuempfel

Author

Chris Biertuempfel is Oceanic Society’s California programs coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area. He also serves as photographer and documentarian on these trips. Chris holds a B.A. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley and is based in our office in Ross, CA.