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Wildlife of the San Francisco Bay Area


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Whale Watching

Whale watching
Whale Watching on a Blue Ocean Whale Watch trip
Photo by Kate Cummings of Blue Ocean Whale Watch

Gray Whale
Gray Whale - Eschrichtius robustu
Photo by Kate Cummings of Blue Ocean Whale Watch

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale - Megaptera novaeangliae, breaching
Photo by zorankovacevic, flickr

Whale Watching
Whale Watching
Photo by Joe Nazar, San Francisco Whale Tours


There are two broad whale-watching "seasons" for our area - the Gray Whale season from December to April and the summer/fall season for the other whales. Whale-watching is typically done on a whale-watching boat trip (bottom photo at right). However it is certainly possible to see whales from the shore if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Monterey Bay and the area around the Farallon Islands are the best locations for whale watching by boat. The Big Sur coast, Point Reyes, and Pigeon Point are good places to see whales without getting seasick, albeit at a distance. Usually you see the spray from their blowholes, the tops of their backs and the tail flukes as they dive (top photo at right). Sometimes, with luck, you see a breaching whale (middle photo at right).

Between mid-December and April is the time when the Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus) are seen on their annual migration, on the West coast, between their Arctic feeding grounds and their breeding grounds in Baja California. They migrate South in December/January. They travel North in March/April, when mothers with calves can often be seen. Gray Whales can be seen quite easily on whale-watching trips.

In summer and fall you get to see Humpback Whales and Blue Whales. The Blue Whale is the largest animal that ever lived on earth (larger than the dinosaurs). Orca (Killer) Whales are being sighted every year. Occasionally there are Minke Whales, and Fin Whales.

You also get to see a wide variety of sea birds, dolphins and other marine life. You almost always get to see California Sea Lions. At Monterey there are Sea Otters. The dolphin family sightings may include Northern Right Whale Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin, Pacific White-Sided Dolphin, Harbor Porpoise, Dalls Porpoise. Blue Sharks and Leatherback Sea Turtles are sighted.

Whale Watching Operators

>> Blue Ocean Whale Watch
Trips in Monterey Bay starting from Moss Landing.  ...sightings 
>> Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Trips in Monterey Bay originating from Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey.  ...sightings 
>> Oceanic Society Whale Watch
Trips originating from Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. Oceanic Society is a non-profit organization working on conservation and education.
>> San Francisco Whale Tours
Trips to the Farallon Islands originating from Fort Mason, San Francisco.
>> Sanctuary Cruises
Specializes in trips in Monterey Bay originating from Moss Landing.  ...sightings 
>> SF Bay Whale Watching
Specializes in trips to the Farallon Islands originating from San Francisco.  ...sightings 

Articles/Links about Whale Watching in the Bay Area

  • Journey North has a great map about Gray Whale migration, with current sightings. 
  • Orca whales attacking a Gray Whale in Monterey Bay - detailed photographic account by Don Roberson. 
  • Whales crowd Monterey Bay to feast on krill bonanza, Sacramento Bee article, 24 July, 2010. Great photos and graphic. 


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