As seen in San Francsico Examiner
and on


By Sharon Gray - Photographer and author, Sharon Gray reports on San Francisco savvy lifestyles, neighborhoods, getaways - and some of the best of attractions, events, shopping, restaurants, home decor, gardens, and local news in and around San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area - through the lens from Z to A. Suggestions or comments? Send them to or use the comment feature after each posting.

Sharon Gray Whale Watch PhotoLog,
Humpback Whales near Farallon Islands Pt I

June 3, 8:38 AM

Photos by Sharon Gray/Gray & Gray Media


Sunday June 2, 2007


Click to visit HULICAT Sportfishing & Charter Boat website


To learn more about Humpback Whale behavior and in hopes of spotting Delta and Dawn, I went on a whale watching expedition out in the Pacific Ocean with the Oceanic Society. I saw six humpback whales, but could not identify whether or not they were Delta and Dawn. Below the photo is a PhotoLog of my whale-watching trip. 

12:46:08 - Thar She Blows! My first whale sighting was of a far-off whale blowing on the horizon near the Farallon Islands. Exciting! See more photos and detailed log below. 



Being Prepared - What To Take

Clothing: Wear layers. and if possible, a water-proof jacket in case of spray or rain; shoes with non-skid soles or rubber boots; a hat that will not blow off and sunglasses. Take sunscreen, a bag lunch and beverages. (I took a ham and cheese sandwich, cole slaw, 3 cans of ginger-ale and a bottle of water). No food is sold on the boat.

6am Breakfast at Mel's on Lombard Street

Knowing the forcast was for unseasonably cold, foggy weather in the Bay Area, I put on my water-proof, non-skid Rockport loafers and dressed warmly in layers and went out for breakfast at Mel's on Lombard Street. My first priority was to not get seasick on the boat; so I took an anti-seasick pill with my OJ, and ordered a New-York steak and eggs with coffee. A high-protein breakfast is supposed to help ward off seasickness. Note: If prone to seasickness, look into OTC medications. Get lots of rest, avoid alcohol and spicy food prior to an oceanic whale watching trip.

Check-in and Pre-Trip Talks

After a great breakfast, I walked through the Marina District to the San Francisco Yacht Harbor at Marina Green, where I was meeting up with the boat. I was greeted by Oceanic Society wildlife biologist, Roger Harris, who gave a pre-trip talk on the birds and marine life we were likely to encounter on the trip, followed by a Q&A period. Check-in time is 7:30 am, boat leaves 8:00 a.m.



I had the opportunity to hear part of a whale-song taped by Oceanic Society marine biologist, Isidore Szczepaniak. Our boat, the 56 feet long, Coast Guard certified Hulli Cat, arrived and we boarded.

We were briefed on boat safety by Huli Cat Captain and Owner Tom Mattusch.

Out to Sea - West from the San Francisco Bay to the Gulf of the Farallons National Marine Sanctuary.

We headed out through the Golden Gate under the Golden Gate Bridge, past the 1877 Point Bonita Light House and westward into the thick fog, out to sea towards the Farallon Islands.


Everyone was on deck watching for whales as we approached the Farallon Islands.

We watched with anticipation for a sign of a whale - fore or aft.

Humpback Whales - Thar They Blow!

Suddenly I saw two whales blowing off the bow at 3 o'clock. Exciting! I saw at least six humpback whales, easily identified by their dorsal fins. I suspected one whale pair might be Delta and Dawn, but I could not get a clear ID shot of their flukes, as they dived together in the choppy ocean. Apparently the humpbacks were concentrating on feeding, and paid little attention to the boat or us as we closed in to get a better view.

Note the "Whale Footprint" of the Humback Whale that slipped under the water just as I took this photo. The other whale in the photo above, was soon to dive also. When two whales dive closely together, they are probably a Mother-Calf duo.

Izzy and Tom recorded the exact location of the humpback whale sightings. Then we went on to the Farallon Islands for a closer look, to birdwatch and have lunch in a cove. Researchers, including Izzy, have catalogued hundreds of individual humpbacks and blue whales as seasonal feeding residents in the area surrounding the Farallon Islands. The whales can be identified by their flukes, the whales' fingerprints. The whales are expected to be in the area until November. Then they head back to the waters off Mexico, Baja, the Sea of Cortez and Costa Rica to breed.

The Farallon Islands


The Farallon Islands, 27 miles out from San Francisco, lie amid the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a food-rich marine ecosystem which attracts whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds each summer and fall, to feed and to breed. Island rocks are covered with sea lions, including massive Steller's sea lions, now on the Endangered Species List. The Farallon Islands were established as a refuge in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  

Twenty three species of marine mammals, including 18 species of whales and dolphins, can be found here. Few humans have set foot on the islands because surrounding waters are rough, weather conditions are harsh, and there is not a natural cove in which to safely disembark.
Bird Watching

On close inspection, I saw that the islands were completely covered with wildlife, mostly birds. It would not be possible to take a step on land without avoiding a seal, moving a bird or breaking birds' eggs. The Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is the second largest seabird rookery in the contiguous United States with nesting Tufted Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, Shearwaters, and other species. The islands provide critical habitat for more than a quarter million breeding seabirds, the largest concentration of breeding seabirds on the West Coast and in the United States, Outside of Alaska. The sea bird nesting season is from March through August.


The Farallon Islands are a National Wildlife Refuge, sparsely inhabited by scientists who stay in housing including the two houses above. Marine scientists live on the island up to three months at a time, isolated from the mainland, record island activities in their roles as wildlife guardians. Supply boats make the trip to the Farallon Islands every two weeks, but if the wind is blowing hard, and sea conditions are hazardous, the supply boat can be canceled; it can be more than a month between visits from other human beings and fresh food.

We're stewards of the island, said a biologist for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, which runs a cooperative program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our job is to monitor and protect the wildlife here.
Back to Port by 5pm

The ride back to port was relaxing. We had all enjoyed our time together and shared stories of sightings of whales, other marine mammals and birds.

Expeditioners are treated to marine mammal sightings that may include: Humpback Whales, Harbor Porpoises, Steller Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Dall’s Porpoise, White Sided Dolphins, Harbor Porpoise, Elephant Seals, Northern Fur Seals, Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions, Grey Whales, Killer Whales and Rizzo Whales. Bird sightings may include: Western grebe, Brown pelican, Double-cested cormorant, Brandt's cormorant, Pelagic cormorant, Black oystercatcher, Brown pelican, Sotty shearwater, Red-necked phalarope, Pink-footed shearwater, Western gull, Elegant tern, Common murre, Cassin's auklet, Rhinoceros auklet, Tufted puffin, and Pigeon guillemot.


Click to visit HULICAT Sportfishing & Charter Boat website


Oceanic Society: For recorded information on Oceanic Society's current sightings of wildlife call the sightings hotline 415 474-0488. Oceanic Society Expeditions is the only non-profit, professional nature tour operator in the Bay Area specializing in educational and research programs since 1972. For a Current Catalog or detailed and updated trip information, including dates and costs, call 800 326-7491 or 415 441-1106 Monday thru Friday 9-5 PST.  

Photo courtesy of the Oceanic Society.