FARALLONES (CBS SF) – Boaters are being warned that humpback and blue whales are starting to appear in the waters outside San Francisco and have been sighted in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Around 40 humpback whales were spotted from Southeast Farallon Island in April, and even a few blue whales, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

Humpback and blue whales are often seen along the West Coast between late spring and fall, feeding on dense swarms of krill—small shrimp-like crustaceans – and small fish like anchovies and sardines.

The humpback whales appearance was right on time, sanctuary officials said, however the blue whales were spotted unusually early.

Whale sightings are common throughout the year, however, because from the winter through the spring migrating gray whales traveling between Mexican breeding grounds and Arctic feeding grounds pass through the sanctuary, as well.

Observers can watch for the whale’s blow, which looks like a puff of smoke, 10 feet tall for humpbacks and 30 feet tall for the enormous blue whales.

Boaters who encounter whales are legally required to keep their distance as the animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA officials recommend boaters who do encounter whales keep a distance of about 300 feet, don’t cut across a whales path, avoid sudden speed or directional changes, and don’t get between a mother and her calf.

Whales are also at risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear. Anyone who sees an entangled whale can call the NOAA Whale Entanglement hot line at (877) 767-9425.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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