Harbor Porpoise Project

Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) have returned to San Francisco Bay after an absence of approximately 65 years.

Bottlenose Dolphin Project

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are recent visitors to the bay. The range of this population extends north to coastal  waters off San Francisco and Marin.

To report 

your sighting

Humpback Whale Project 

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have recently begun to feed in San Francisco Bay.

We are partnering with the National Wildlife Federation on a "Return of the Porpoises" campaign. For more details, visit the NWF's SFBay Porpoises.org webpage by clicking the link below: 

Collaborating Organizations: 

  • ​Estuary & Ocean Science Center (SFSU)  Link
  • California Academy of Sciences  Link
  • ​Gulf of the Farallones Nat. Marine Sanctuary  Link
  • ​The Marine Mammal Center  Link
  • American Cetacean Society SF Bay Chapter  Link 
  • San Francisco Whale Tours  Link
  • ​The Oceanic Society  Link
  • ​Okeanis  Link

Harbor porpoise entering SF Bay


Key Research Findings:

Porpoises: We compiled the world’s first photo catalog for harbor porpoises, proving it is possible to track individual porpoises by matching  their scars and pigmentation patterns. Currently we have 650 porpoises in our ID catalog.  We counted porpoises entering and leaving San Francisco Bay, and found they are now here year-round, and over a hundred of them may be using the bay in a single day. Many mother porpoises are bringing their calves into the Bay, perhaps using the sheltered waters as a nursery. We are also the first to make detailed observations of harbor porpoise social life, including mating behavior. 

Dolphins: We have identified 97 adult bottlenose dolphins in our photo catalog, and found that most of these are known from Monterey Bay.  By comparing our photos with researchers in Southern California, we discovered one dolphin now living in the San Francisco Bay Area was seen in Ensenada, Mexico in the year 2000, a record long distance travel for a coastal bottlenose dolphin.

Whales: We are now tracking humpback whales in San Francisco Bay. They are feeding in the bay for the first time, and we have compiled a photo catalog of 58 individual whales.

Content copyright © 2017. Golden Gate Cetacean Research. All rights reserved.


and updates

Golden Gate Cetacean Research is a nonprofit organization devoted to scientific research on our local porpoises, dolphins and whales (collectively known as 'cetaceans')

Our projects are led by a team of marine mammal researchers, all highly experienced in identifying and photographing cetaceans.  The goal is to add to the body of scientific knowledge of the species inhabiting San Francisco Bay Area waters, and provide resource managers with the information they need to make wise conservation choices.

  • Golden Gate Raptor Observatory  Link

  • National Wildlife Federation

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Field Studies of Porpoises, Dolphins & Whales