The Real San Francisco Giants Playing on Halloween

Fall is in the air and following a week of rains from an intense Pacific storm, the Outer Limits steamed west beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in search of whales, sharks and other wildlife.  Sunday was Halloween and Giants fever spread to the ocean as several passengers donned the orange and black and one intrepid trick or treater wore her cat’s ears in anticipation of another wildlife tour.
The Gulf of the Farallones did not disappoint us. Where large waves had spent their energy on the Four Fathom Bank a few days before, the ocean was now calm and the winds light.  The face of the Gulf is transforming from the summer’s upwelling and the summer birds are heading south.  Filling the void are the sea birds who have been feeding in the North and the Arctic Terns and Sabine’s Gulls are appearing, as other pelagic birds from Petrels to Bullers and Sooty Shearwaters still spread their wings.
Crossing a swath of water brown with phytoplankton we observed no whales but a profusion of Moon and Lion’s Mane Jellyfish.  It would be a perfect day for a Leatherback Turtle sighting and we kept our eyes peeled for these rare and endangered reptiles.
Arriving at South East Farallones we had a real treat: the weather was so calm we approached  the north end of the island.  Barely a wind wave licked the rugged rocks of North Fisherman’s Bay.  On the steep crags of Sugar Loaf Rock the Murres have been replaced by the salt and pepper speckling of Double Crested Cormorants and Western Gulls.
Rounding clockwise we encountered our first whale: a young California Grey Whale blowing and diving, feeding along the shallow bottom near the island. Soon to be joined by his relatives migrating south from the Arctic, this solitary Grey has had a nice summer feeding alongside the island and has been a regular sighting.
In the south anchorage, the White Shark watchers waited patiently on the decks of the El Dorado, with adventure seekers anxiously peering through the bars of the shark cage.  Its Sharktober, so we spoke White Shark biology for a half hour as the shark crew tossed their seal-shaped carpet out to attract a curious shark. 
After awhile Captain Jimmy took us out for the whale show, and what a show it was. 
Spouting north and south, Humpbacks languorously slurped krill along the surface.  Not as active as weeks before, the whales fed in pairs and threes without the lunge feeding or active herding of food observed earlier in the season.  At the edge of the blue water a whale erupted from the sea, breaching again and again. This activity repeated itself and the crowd cheered to the sound of forty tons of Cetacean crashing into the sea. 
The sun emerged and the wind died and the surface became a glassy painted sea as we motored near the North Farallones.  A radio call piped the success of one of the shark watchers. A White Shark had taken the decoy and pulled it beneath the surface.  Our shark fans had hoped to see the event, but it’s the ocean and we cannot direct it’s activity, but must be patient and let the drama unfold.  With breaching humpbacks breaking the horizon, Nature (Ok, and the Giants) provided us with plenty of drama this Halloween.
photo by Jeff Akeley