Gray Whale Migration Season 2016-2017
Also Humpback & Blue Whales
Tours run from about 12/15/16 – 5/31/17 off the Pacific Coast via paid boat tours or watch free from shore!
Watch some 20,000 gray whales and their calves migrating 5000 miles along the Pacific Coast shoreline from wintering in their Baja breeding and calving grounds, to summer feeding in the Bering Sea between Alaska & Siberia.
The peak of the southern migration (at Point Reyes) season usually occurs in mid-January and the peak of the northern migration is in mid-March. Cows with their calves (typically born within a six-week time period in mid January) are sometimes seen close to shore in late April and early May. Baby gray whales start out at about 16 feet long and 2,000 lbs. Their mothers are about 43-50 feet long with tails up to 12 feet across and weigh in at about 72,000 lbs.
The whales breed in the lagoons of Baja, Mexico, during the winter months (January, February, March), migrate north in the spring to the Bering & Chukchi Seas where they stay during the summer months (June, July, August). There in the northern seas they feed on plankton which massively blooms for a couple of months when the sun is up 24 hours/day. In these conditions a whale can eat a ton of plankton/day. In the fall they migrate back to Baja. This round trip is about 10-12,000 miles, the longest migration known to man.
Whale watching tour boats leave San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Moss Landing and Monterey during the December-May season. Check with the various tour boat vendors for details and best dates to go since whale watching is far from an exact science. Three-hour long trips are offered daily out of Monterey and on weekends by the Oceanic Society out of Pillar Point Harbor north of Half Moon Bay. Six-hour-long all-day trips from San Francisco go under the Golden Gate Bridge out to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Here are some good places to watch the gray whales from shore near Montara: the Point Montara Lighthouse or from Gray Whale Cove Trail on the Montara Mountain Hike. Also the new Devil’s Slide Trail and San Pedro Point Headlands. Even if you don’t see any whales you will enjoy some spectacular views. Also down south Ano Nuevo Point and the shores of Point Reyes Headlands are good places to watch.
Humpback and Blue Whale Season
Later in the year, from May to November, is the Farallon whale watching season for humpback whales and for blue whales, the largest known animals ever in existence (including dinosaurs). Blue whales can be 100 feet in length and weigh more than 380,000 lbs.
Since they were hunted almost to extinction (from about 350,000 in the 1920s down to about 1,000 … there are now about 15,000 worldwide today including 2,000 along the California coast) they can be hard to find. Even so, during this season the Oceanic Society & others still run 8-hour quests out of San Francisco and Sausalito to the Farallon Islands, a wild life refuge 30 miles out from Golden Gate Bridge.
Even if you miss seeing a blue whale Farallon Islands is a marine life paradise. However, don’t forget to bring warm wet gear and binoculars; and, do NOT take this tour if you even slightly tend to get sea sick.