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.

One of more than 30 gray whales seen on March 14 and 15. © Izzy Szczepaniak

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.

Long-beaked common dolphins riding our bow wave. © Nan Sincero

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.


Mar 1 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay

Participants on Saturday’s morning Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed northwest on a day with early showers that cleared and produced lots of rainbows. One gray whale was spotted, probably heading north, but we lost it after a few blows. This continued with a second and third whale. We saw a few blows, but were unable to determine direction. When least expected, we found another whale about three miles from the harbor and were able to follow it for 35-40 minutes, seeing several breathing cycles and getting to see its head and back. 

As is the nature of wildlife viewing, Saturday afternoon and Sunday’s trips were unable to find any whales. But Saturday we saw many California sea lions on the buoy and one large male hanging out at the dock. Saturday afternoon’s passengers had a spectacular day with great visibility and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sunday’s passengers saw 3 harbor porpoises, a harbor seal and a raft of roughly 700 feeding birds.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: 15 pelagic cormorants, 40 Brandt’s cormorants, 4 California gulls, 500 western gulls, 4 western grebes, 700 common murres, 20 surf scoters, 2 bufflehead ducks, 200 brown pelicans, 6 white wing scoters, 1 black oyster catcher. 


Feb 22 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay

Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip participants initially encountered fog with poor visibility, but the captain found a section with overcast visibility leading to sunny skies, as the naturalist and passengers were able to study the geography of the coastline along Pedro Point, Bird Rock, and Devil’s Slide. Whale blows were sighted on three occasions, all within three miles of the harbor before spotting a southbound gray whale near the channel marker buoy. Bird watchers saw common loons, eared grebe, western grebe, surf scoter, more than 65 pelagic cormorants and 200+ gulls.

Participants on Sunday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip had sunny skies with swells of 4-6 feet. Passengers saw the first northbound gray whale migrants of the season. They sighted 6 blows early on, then later several blows and three whales, one showing flukes. Four California sea lions were also spotted lounging on the buoys. Two large bait balls (schools of tightly packed small fish clustered together in a spherical formation for protection) near the shore attracted hundreds of gulls and pelicans, and the pelicans were diving for fish. Other seabird sightings included common loons, western grebes, over 65 pelagic cormorants, 3 surf scooters, over 300 gulls and 200+ common murres.


Feb 15 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay

Saturday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip participants headed out on clear, calm, sunny day. Within the first 30 minutes, a young gray whale, approximately 35 feet, swam about 150 feet from the boat and took 2-3 breath cycles before breaching. The group also saw a 14-16 foot ocean sunfish (also known as mola mola), and 8 dolphins. Bird watchers saw common loons, western grebe, shearwater species, over 100 brown pelicans and over 25 pelagic cormorants.

Participants on Sunday morning’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed north to Pedro Point, then out three miles and south to the harbor. The weather was sunny and beautiful all day with a swell of 2-4 feet,and winds at 5-10 knots. Passengers saw both a gray whale and three humpback whales as well as a California sea lion, a Stellar sea lion, a harbor seal, a long-beaked common dolphin and a harbor porpoise.

Sunday afternoon’s trip headed out to the Pedro Point buoy, then followed a gray whale south for 30 minutes and moved out to see the three humpback whales before heading back to the harbor. Species of birds reported on both morning and afternoon trips included eared grebe, sooty shearwater, brown pelican, double-crested cormorant, surf scoter, Western gull and common murre.


Feb 1 2015 (All day)
Half Moon Bay

Participants on Saturday’s Half Moon Bay gray whale watching trip headed west on a sunny, calm day. The exhalation of one whale was seen three times, but no other whales were spotted. Passengers did get looks at over 20 harbor porpoises.

Sunday’s trip headed north to Montara and spotted 7 gray whales. Passengers got good looks at the whale’s backs, blows, and flukes. This encounter lasted for the entire trip as the boat followed this group south to the Ritz Carlton.

A gray whale seen on February 1. © Nan Sincero

Other marine mammals sighted over the weekend included harbor porpoises, California sea lions, and harbor seals.

Species of seabirds sighted on both trips included: Pacific loons, Common loons, Eared grebes, Pink-footed shearwaters, Brown pelicans, Double-crested cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Surf scoters, White-winged scoters, Black oystercatchers, Western gulls, and Common murres.

Common murres in flight. © Nan Sincero

A gray whale fluke. © Nan Sincero