Illustration by Uko Gorter

Our project is designed to collect the following data --

Long-term Tracking: Photographic identification techniques (images of the underside of the flukes) for comparison with the North Pacific catalog. Sightings over time may tell us whether individuals come back to the same areas to feed. We have identified 58 whales using the bay, and some are matched to catalogs from their breeding grounds in Mexico.

Foraging Behavior: Multiple feeding strategies, including lunging at the surface, are employed by humpback whales, each with its own costs and benefits.

Risk of Ship Strikes:  As whales enter the narrow Golden Gate, they encounter ships transiting the area, creating the potential for collisions. Our work will help understand the level of risk created by the humpbacks' use of their new habitat.  

This research is in collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective, which is authorized to conduct humpback whale research under NOAA Fisheries Scientific Research Permit 16111-02.

Humpback Whale Project

This project studies the ecological role of humpback whales in San Francisco Bay

  • SF Bay Area: Irregular along our coast from spring to fall. In summer 2016, humpback whales first entered San Francisco Bay to feed on fish, an unprecedented phenomenon that prompted our research effort. In 2018, the whales returned for the third year in a row. 


Field Studies of Porpoises, Dolphins & Whales

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San Francisco Bay Humpback Whale Photos

Humpback Whale Facts: 

  • Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
  • Length:  50 ft, medium-sized baleen whale 
  • Weight:  25-40 tons
  • Lifespan: probably to 50 yrs or more
  • Calves: single calves are born in the tropics in winter after a gestation period of 11-12 months
  • Diet: krill and small schooling fish such as anchovy 
  • Range: all oceans; the ones visiting California may breed off Mexico or Central America. 
  • Population: about 20,000 in the North Pacific  
  • Conservation status: the populations that migrate to California are considered threatened or endangered.