Gray whales are back in the Bay Area as they migrate from Mexico to feeding areas near Alaska. Like many years in the past, they have entered the Bay itself.
A mother gray whale and her baby were spotted several times in the SF Bay last week. Though the sightings may excite Bay Area residents, whales in the Bay are in a risky place. Mature gray whales easily exceed 30 tons, but can be killed in a collision with a boat or ship. They can also be separated from their young, causing a baby whale to starve.
To keep whales and people safe, the Coast Guard has put out warnings to remind boaters that being within 50 yards of a gray whale is both dangerous and illegal. Although whale harassment in the Bay has yet to be reported this year, it can come with a $20,000 fine.
Gray whales have the longest-known migration of any animal, between 10,000 and 12,000 miles roundtrip through frigid waters and popular boating areas.
People eager to catch a sighting of these ocean giants can make their way to the coast with binoculars, as so many have excitedly done over the past week. You can also sign up for whale sighting tours throughout the Spring.
Gray Whales are relatively easy to spot as they keep close to shore in order to avoid their primary predator – the orca or killer whale.
The SF Bay has had a special relationship with whales, having watched closely as teams of scientists and military personnel saved Humphrey the humpback whale in 1985 and again in 1990. A mother and daughter pair of humpback whales, Delta and Dawn, were rescued back in 2007.
In addition to keeping a 50-yard distance, boaters are asked to not cross a whale’s path, make sudden speed or directional changes near them, box them in or get between a mother and her calf.
In ideal conditions, a gray whale can live over 50 years.