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Press Releases

March 18, 2012


Mary Jane Schramm
415-561-6622, ext. 205

Sarah Marquis

NOAA's Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Asks Bay Area Boaters to Watch Out for Whales

NOAA's Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary advises San Francisco Bay Area boaters to watch out for and steer clear of whales. Multiple whale species migrate into the area in large numbers during the spring and summer. Boaters should use caution year-round, but springtime presents a higher chance of coming into close contact with whales.

Gray whales are at a particularly high risk of collisions with vessels, as they often travel near the outer coast shore and into San Francisco Bay and Tomales Bay, making their way north from breeding grounds off Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska. Many of these whales travel directly through the busy shipping lanes off San Francisco in the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary just outside the Golden Gate.

While several species migrate south through the sanctuary in the winter, gray whales - including mothers with newborn calves - swim closest to shore in the spring. Cow-calf pairs can sometimes be seen from shore, pausing in the surf zone for the calf to nurse or rest and avoiding killer whales.

Boaters should watch for the gray whale's blow-or exhalation-which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high, since very little of the whale is visible at the surface. A whale may surface and blow several times before a prolonged dive, typically lasting from three to six minutes.

Boaters should not:

  • Approach within 300 feet (about the length of a football field) of any whale
  • Cut across a whale's path
  • Make sudden speed or directional changes
  • Get between a whale cow and her calf - if separated from its mother, a calf may be doomed to starvation

Each year, thousands of ships and smaller vessels pass through the Golden Gate. Even small craft collisions with a whale can have disastrous results for both whale and vessel. All whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Some local species, such as humpback and blue whales, are also protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Designated in 1981, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary encompasses more than 1,200 square miles of ocean and coastal waters beyond California's Golden Gate. The sanctuary's nutrient-rich waters provide vital nursery and spawning grounds for fish and shellfish and support the largest breeding seabird rookery in the contiguous United States. At least 36 marine mammal species have been observed within its borders, including 25 endangered species, such as blue and humpback whales.

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On the Web:
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association

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