Between December and May: approximately 15,000 California gray whales travel 10,000 miles along the Pacific Coast from cold Arctic feeding grounds to warm, shallow breeding waters off Baja, California. During December and January the pregnant whales are traveling south, carrying their babies who will be born in the warmer waters off Mexico. From February through May the northward migration is lead by pregnant females while the mothers and babies trail behind, closer to the coast to avoid predators.
The fascinating migration of California gray whales can be
observed from Marin County shores or on whale-watching cruises.
The Farallon Islands off the coast of Marin are part of a marine eco-system that attracts whales, dolphins, seals and sea birds. The Farallon Island beaches are covered with sea lions, including the massive Steller’s sea lion. The Oceanic Society runs whale-watching cruises to the Farallon Islands out of ports in San Francisco and Bodega Bay. For information on whale watching cruises go to: www.oceanic-society.org.
During the migration, whales can often be seen from the Pt. Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands or from various sites on the Pt. Reyes peninsula. The headlands of the Pt. Reyes peninsula offer one of the finest spots to view the gray whale. The areas around Chimney Rock and the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse offer some of the best whale watching spots in the park. The best chance of seeing whales from the Pt. Reyes coast is in mid-January, the peak of the southern migration. Observers should look for 10-15 foot spouts. www.nps.gov — Viewing Wildlife Around Point Reyes National Seashore.
Elephant Seals, Harbor Seals and Sea Lions
Northern elephant seals, harbor seals, and sea lions are found at South Beach during the winter and also can be viewed from Chimney Rock. After being absent for more than 150 years, elephant seals returned to the Point Reyes Headlands in the early 1970s. From December through March a breeding colony of elephant seals can be observed from Elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney Rock, above Drakes Bay.
From the overlook visitors can observe the behavior of the animals, including the birthing of pups. During weekends and holidays, trained docents staff the Overlook. They have binoculars, spotting scopes and information to share with visitors. Go to: www.nps.gov — Elephant Seals or www.nps.gov — Harbor Seals
Another great place to go observing for a rich diversity of wildlife is the Farallon islands. Several tours are available to help you get out there and see for yourself!
The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. The sanctuary contains 26 federally listed endangered or threatened species, including seabirds such as Marbled Murrelets, and the Leatherback Sea Turtle. Part of the planet's only recovering Blue Whale population regularly feeds in the sanctuary. Northern Elephant Seals, California and Steller Sea Lions breed or feed here, and Northern Fur Seals have resumed breeding on the islands for the first time in over 150 years.
Pier39- tourist observing the seals that have taken over the San Francisco Marina, year round!
A for sure way, and inexpensive way, to get a show, and quite natural to boot, is going to Pier 39 in San Francisco. Pier39 is a tourist attraction with incredible views and shops. However, what is amazing is that the Seals have taken over the Marina here. Locals loved it and petitioned to not let the marina kick the seals out. Hence they have overtaken the marina! (see pic below)
Come look at them fight over dock space, play with each other, swim and frolick. Each dock has its own clan of seals fighting and playing! A real spectical that is fun to see for all ages, at no price, and probably part of your tourist touring anyway! (Pier39 has great views out over Marin, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate)
Tours are available for wildlife viewing, learning, as well as conservation lessons for the future.
Coho Salmon from Alaska make their way up the creeks of West Marin's Lagunitas Watershed.
Winter in the Lagunitas Watershed is the most spectacular season for salmon viewing. Join Spawn's experienced naturalists on Lagunitas Creeks. Learn about salmon ecology while observing them in the wild, and learn how you can help preserve and restore these magnificent creatures for future generations.
***RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED: PLEASE CLICK HERE for trip info and to make your reservation.
Endangered coho return to Lagunitas Creek to spawn.
Coho salmon are the most abundant salmon species spawning in the Lagunitas watershed. Yet populations are down 90% from historic levels in the 1940s. The Lagunitas Watershed, located in West Marin County is reported to have one of the largest populations of wild coho left in California yet the population is listed as endangered at both the State and Federal level.
Where to See Salmon
Spawn has created a brochure you can download which outlines the best places to see spawning in the watershed as well as proper salmon viewing etiquette, click "Here" for brochure.