On Veterans Day I fulfilled a long-time dream thanks to a gift certificate from my partner Herb. (Thank you Honey!) My body trembled with awe and tears came to my eyes as two humpback whales came within ten feet…so close I could smell their fishy breath. (See the video below.) The cruise with SF Bay Whale Watching (highly recommended) started from San Francisco and went under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands and then past the continental shelf at which point the whales appeared. This is the end of the season to see Humpback Whales in the Bay Area. Any day now they will make their migration to warmer waters. So, there was a distinct possibility that we'd see no whales at all.
Once we got past the continental shelf, the first dorsal fin was sighted just off the starboard bow…an Orca! Then another Orca! A few moments later off both starboard and port, blowholes spouted ocean water and air…Humpback Whales! 2, 4, 6, 8…too many to count...whales appeared in every direction. We were surrounded!
The Orcas soon swam out of sight, perhaps pursuing a distant floating raft of sea lions. Then two humpbacks began circling the boat. Having seen these humans float by day after day, the humpbacks decided to take a closer look before heading south for the winter. Suddenly the tourists had become the tourist attraction!
For the sake of the whales' wellbeing, ships are not allowed to come within 100 yards, unless, of course, the whales decide to come to the ship. Then the only thing to do is wait, watch, and marvel until they decide to leave. The humpbacks, a male and female, about 45 feet long and 40 feet long respectively, circled our boat to their delight and ours for over half an hour. As the captain said, it was truly an epic day of whale watching.
A few fun factoids about Humpback Whales:
- Humpbacks can eat upwards of 1.5 tons of food a day, mostly krill and small fish, which they slurp up with a mouthful of ocean water, which is then filtered out through two rows of baleen plates, leaving a mouthful of delectable seafood.
- The life expectancy of Humpbacks whales is about 50 years. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species. Only about 30% of their original population remains.
- Humpbacks sing complex songs that last up to 20 minutes and can be heard 20 miles away. Males repeat these songs for hours on end. Each population of Humpbacks has its own unique song. Scientists are not certain how humpbacks are able to sing. They have no vocal chords. While singing, their mouths do not move, and air does not leave their bodies.
- They are acrobatic and can breach their 40-ton bodies completely out of the water.