Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Record Breaking Whale Numbers Around the Farallones

Photo by Mike Johns

Despite being from Wales and a graduate in Marine Biology, I had never seen a whale in my life before coming to the Farallones. Whilst at the Point Blue office, I naively asked Russ Bradley, one of the Point Blue Biologists, whether there was any chance of seeing whales during my internship. He laughed and said “just you wait”. Little did I know, I would witness record breaking numbers of whales around the Farallones!
In addition to the seabird work on the Farallones, we also complete standard surveys of whales from the top of Lighthouse Hill, which is the highest point on the island (90m above sea level). On the 26th of June 2017, conditions were perfect for a whale watch – visibility allowed us to see over 60 miles and the sea was pancake flat.

View from the top of Lighthouse Hill. Photo by Claudia Tapia Harris

Before starting the survey, we knew the counts were going to be good because we could see a steady stream of whale blows from the house. At the top of Lighthouse Hill, the view was spectacular – whales were breaching, feeding and fluking in every direction! The highlights for me were the massive feeding frenzy near the Golden Gate Bridge of around 50 humpback whales and the pod of 10 blue whales that were only a mile offshore from the island.
Tallying up the numbers, we found that a whopping 251 whales were counted during the survey! The breakdown included 216 humpbacks, 14 blue whales, 3 gray whales and 18 unidentified whales. The day officially broke the record for the greatest amount of whales observed from the Farallones since records began 49 years ago in 1968. The day was named as “THE MOST AMAZING WHALE DAY EVER” by one of the interns in our daily journal. The only other count to have come close to our record breaking whale numbers was in 1996 with 202 whales (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Maximum daily whale count of all species around the Farallones from 1987 – 2017

This amazing day is proof of the incredible population recovery of whales (particularly humpback whales) in this region. The next blog will explore this issue more.

-Cerren Richards (Point Blue Farallon Intern)