The resurging humpback whale scene usually starts in late April or May, but a few whale spottings in the SF Bay last week indicate their calendars may be springing forward.
We didn’t used to see humpback whales at all in the San Francisco Bay. It’s actually a phenomenon that’s only goes back about five or six years, while other whale species, like gray whales, are a bit more common. This is most likely because humpbacks' numbers are increasing. Marine Mammal Center CEO Dr. Jeff Boehm wrote in the Chronicle last year that "the humpback whale population in the North Pacific has grown from about 2,000 in the 1970s to more than 20,000 today," thanks to decades of conservation efforts.
Since returning to the SF Bay scene, the humpbacks have been dazzling us with their aerial jumps and delighting whale watchers, but our newly returned friends can also collide with boats and shorten Dungeness crab season. And they don’t normally show up until late April, this time of year is typically gray whale season.
But KCBS Radio reports that a humpback whale was spotted feeding off the shores of Tiburon last week, the first March humpback whale feeding Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center has documented. The humpback seen above was seen last Tuesday, and two days before KTVU reported that a baby humpback was found solo in the Oakland estuary, indicating that the humpbacks are starting to return to the area earlier this year.
“The reason this is so unusual is that this is the first time we’ve ever seen a humpback whale feed inside San Francisco Bay in the month of March,” Marine Mammal Center research associate Bill Keener told KCBS. “This whale was actually first seen on Tuesday, March 9, and it was feeding off the Sausalito area in a big, massive flock of gulls and cormorants, and they were on a shoal of anchovies.”
If you’re any kind of a boater, be alert that while their leaps and breaches are majestic, that’s when they pose the most danger to adjacent seacraft. "People have to be really alert if they see a blow, if they see the spout," Keener said. "Especially when these whales are feeding, they are lunging up suddenly and could potentially injure a small boat or a kayaker."
That warning applies to windsurfers too, dudes.
Image: ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 04: A humpback whale breaches in a lagoon on June 04, 2019 in Alameda, California. Scientists are concerned about the whale, which has been swimming in a lagoon off the San Francisco Bay for over a week. According to the Marine Mammal Center, the whale appears to be unhealthy and is likely malnourished. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)