Record numbers of humpack and blue whales are feeding off the coast of San Francisco in a display of gluttony virtually unprecedented for this time of year, marine scientists fresh off a weeklong study near the Farallon Islands confirmed this May .
The researchers on the 208-foot-long Bell Shimada, which is now docked at Piers 30 and 32 along the Embarcadero, counted between 30 and 60 humpbacks a day and about 10 blue whales over the past seven days. Those numbers are far higher than normal for this time of year, based on similar studies done over 13 years.
“We don’t know if it’s food-driven or water-temperature- or climate-change-driven,” Jan Roletto, research coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, said of this month’s massive numbers of hungry humpbacks.
Last year was also a big year for humpbacks. “They’ve been showing up earlier and earlier” every year, she said.
The researchers suspect the giant cetaceans are following prey — including the tiny shrimp-like creatures known as krill, anchovies and schools of small fish. Several humpbacks were seen over the past few weeks feeding in San Francisco Bay near Fort Point, a highly unusual activity for the whales, which generally prefer to be well offshore.
The weeklong expedition, which covered some 50 miles of ocean from Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay, was an attempt by scientists with the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science to document wildlife populations and trends in the area, which is known to be one of the world’s most abundant marine ecosystems.
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article: Peter Fimrite
photo: Lauri Duke