SAN FRANCISCO BAY (CBS SF) – A gray whale mother and calf were spotted in San Francisco Bay again Thursday morning, and officials from the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary were warning boaters to give them a wide berth.
After being spotted Wednesday afternoon, the whales were seen again this morning about a quarter-mile off Alcatraz Island and appeared to be heading east, sanctuary spokeswoman Mary Jane Schramm said.
On Wednesday, Schramm said she and other sanctuary officials saw a boat approaching the whales that potentially was too close, according to the law.
Boaters are instructed not to get within 300 feet of a whale, cut across a whale’s path, make sudden speed or directional changes around a whale, or get between a whale cow and her calf. Separating a calf from its mother would doom it to starvation, officials said.
Collisions between boats and whales can have disastrous impacts for both the whale and the vessel, and could result in legal consequences, according to the marine sanctuary, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Schramm said that many boaters aren’t aware of the regulations regarding approaching whales, and that boaters may inadvertently cause the whales harm.
“Most people, once they understand the delicacy of the situation, are going to do the right thing,” Schramm said. “A cow with a very young calf, they’re very vulnerable to disturbance. The young one has to bulk up to be equal to the long-distance migration.”
More whale activity in and around San Francisco Bay is expected as gray whales travel near the shore of San Francisco and Tomales Bay, migrating from their breeding grounds near Mexico around 6,000 miles to feeding grounds near Alaska.
Gray whales in particular swim close to the shore, and cow-calf pairs sometimes pause in surf zones for the calf to nurse or rest, or when avoiding killer whales.
San Francisco Bay “may be a little haven to pull into, it can be pretty rough on the outside,” Schramm said.
While not much of a whale is usually visible on the surface, whales can be spotted by their blow, which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high. Whales will blow several times before diving for three to six minutes, marine sanctuary officials said.
All whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and some species, such as humpback and blue whales, are also protected by the Endangered Species Act.
But despite the legal restrictions, Schramm said there are plenty of ways for people to observe whales around San Francisco, as long as whale watchers are with a captain that knows how to navigate near whales, and a naturalist that can explain whale behavior.
Anyone looking to learn more about whales and marine life could also visit the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, which kicks off tonight with a sold-out gala and will continue through Sunday evening.
The festival will be held at the Bay Theater on Pier 39, next to the Aquarium of the Bay, and will include films on sharks, surfing, ocean exploration and ocean sports like sailing.
A schedule of films and events can be found at www.oceanfilmfest.org.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)