Humpback Whales received extensive media coverage following the sojourn of a mother and her calf, nicknamed Delta and Dawn, up the Sacramento River. Along this journey, the Humpbacks passed right under the Golden Gate Bridge and through the waters of the Golden Gate National Parks.
Humpbacks are one of the most numerically depleted large whales, with a current population estimated at only one-tenth of the number alive before commercial whaling. These majestic animals have been protected as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act since the Act’s passage in 1973.
The northern California sub-population of Humpbacks winters off the coast of Mexico; their prime summer feeding grounds are the area off the continental shelf around the Farallon Islands, not far from the Golden Gate. GGNP Endangered Species Big Year participants have had success searching for Humpback Whales at Fort Funston’s observation deck.
They possess distinctively long flippers, up to one third of their body length. During the winter breeding season, males produce very long—up to thirty minutes—complex and repetitive songs. These animals have a remarkable repertory of feeding strategies, including the use of columns or nets of expelled bubbles to concentrate fish, and cooperative fishing that is thought to include auditory signaling for synchronization.
Factors limiting the recovery of the Humpback population include entanglement in fishing nets, loss of habitat due to development, collisions with ships, and pollution, which can accumulate in the species’ long-lived bodies over time.
The best time to see Humpback Whales from the GGNP is during their migration season, from July to November. They are an acrobatic species: watch for them breeching off-shore.