Dozens of whales are frolicking off Northern California's coast in a feast for the eyes that has also prompted federal officials to issue a boating warning.
Officials documented 115 humpback, blue and fin whales during a one-hour survey last weekend near the Farallon Islands, the Marin Independent Journal reported Saturday.
"We are alerting small boaters and large vessel operators to be on the alert for endangered whales, and to maintain minimum distances,'' said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
To ease the threat of vessels striking whales, federal officials say recreational boaters, including fishermen, should remain at least 300 feet away — the federal minimum distance guideline.
Roger Thomas, the 80-year-old dean of the Bay Area salmon fleet who serves as skipper of Sausalito's Salty Lady, said there seem to be more whales near shore this year than ever before.
"It's unbelievable,'' he said. "Whales are all over the place.''
Drawn in to feed on waves of krill, a tiny shrimp-like crustacean that's a staple of blue whales' diet, and huge schools of anchovies, which attract humpbacks, whales are showing up in numbers seldom seen this close to the coast, according to Thomas, who runs whale-watching trips for the Oceanic Society when the Salty Lady isn't chartered by salmon fishermen.
On a whale-watching trip, Thomas said he sighted 25 humpbacks and three blue whales, most within range of Southeast Farallon Island.
Onlookers at San Francisco's Land's End one day saw eight to 10 humpbacks just a mile offshore _ pectoral fin slapping, lob tailing and both singular and serial breaching, Nan Sincero of the Oceanic Society told the San Francisco Chronicle.
"The humpbacks at the entrance to the bay have been hanging out for weeks,'' Sincero said. "They are in heaven with all the food out there.''