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March 12, 2007

Contact:  Mary Jane Schramm, National Marine Sanctuary Program
(415) 561-6622 x 205

David L. Hall, NOAA Public Affairs
(301) 713-3066 ext. 191

NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones Sanctuary Encourages Bay Area Boaters to Watch Out for Whales

Spring is the season of greatest danger to migrating gray whales from vessel traffic in the busy San Francisco Bay Area. The staff of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), advises boaters to “share the water” with whales, especially gray whales, which often travel near shore and sometimes wander into the bay. Last spring, a dead female adult gray whale was found floating in San Francisco Bay with propeller scars on its back and other evidence of trauma. It is believed that it may have left a calf behind, which would not have survived alone.

Very little of a gray whale is visible at the surface, so boaters should watch for the “spout” of a breathing whale, which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 feet high. It may do this several times before making a prolonged dive, with several minutes intervening. Boaters should not approach within 300 feet (the length of a football field) of a whale, cut across a whale’s path, make sudden speed or directional changes, and especially should not get between a whale cow and her calf, as the animals are highly protective of their young.

In the spring, mother gray whales from Baja California travel north with their new calves, passing near our coast on their way to feeding grounds in the Arctic. Off San Francisco, they run an obstacle course of vessels in the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary’s busy shipping lanes, with thousands of large ships passing through the Golden Gate each year. Even small craft collisions with a whale can have disastrous results for both whale and vessel.

All whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Some local species, such as humpback and blue whales, are also protected by the Endangered Species Act. Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects the natural and cultural resources of 1,255 square miles of open ocean, bay and wetlands. For information call (415) 561-6622 or visit

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program, which manages Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.  NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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On the Web:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program:

NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:




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