To keep whales safe in the Bay, boaters need to stay at least 300 feet away—about the length of a football field—warns the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
A gray whale has been spotted in the Bay over the last couple of days, and one excited boater told a TV news reporter he got within 50 feet of the whale. But for the whale, getting that close spells danger.
Gray whales are at a particularly high risk of collisions with boats and ships in springtime, when they swim close to the outer coast shore, heading north from breeding grounds off Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska. As the whales swim near shore, they may enter San Francisco and Tomales Bays.
Very little of a gray whale is visible at the water surface. To avoid getting too close, boaters should watch for the gray whale’s blow—or exhalation—which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high. A whale may surface and blow several times before a prolonged dive, which typically lasts three to six minutes.
In addition to staying 300 feet away, the NOAA says boaters should not cut across a whale’s path or make sudden speed or directional changes. Boaters should also not get between a whale cow and her calf. If separated from its mother, a calf may be doomed to starvation.
As they migrate along our coast, gray whale 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. Multiple other whale species also migrate up the coast in large numbers during spring and summer. Boaters should use caution year-round, but especially in springtime.
The Baykeeper boat took ABC7 News out to see the gray whale when it surfaced in San Francisco Bay on Wednesday—from a safe distance. Click here to see the TV coverage of the gray whale in the Bay.