The Bay has two tales of whales

A gray whale made an appearance about a quarter mile off Crissy Field on Thursday morning, providing a sightseeing bonus for tourists who first caught a glimpse of the creature while aboard a tour boat in the Bay.

The whale was first seen about at approximately 10:30 a.m. and later at 4:30 p.m., according to U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Lauren Kolumbic. The sightings followed a report Wednesday of a similar whale near Angel Island, Kolumbic said. She said there was no way to determine if it was the same creature spotted in both instances.

Appearances by gray whales in San Francisco Bay are not uncommon this time of year, according to Jan Roletto, research coordinator at the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, whose offices at Crissy Field offered close-up views of the whale Thursday.

The whale, which Roletto described from firsthand accounts as an older juvenile, was probably in the midst of the northern leg of its annual migration, one that covers thousands of miles, many of them along the California coast.

Although a gray whale in the Bay is not that unusual, human development can still pose a threat to the safety of the aquatic creatures, according to Mieke Eerkens, spokeswoman for the Marine Mammal Center, based in Sausalito.

The biggest danger to the whales are ship strikes from the ocean tankers that dot the Bay, Mieke said.

Kolumbic said the Coast Guard put out an alert after the first sighting Wednesday, essentially warning all ship operators to be mindful of a whale in the water.

Last May, a female humpback whale and her calf swam 90 miles inland, making it all the way to the Rio Vista Bridge near Sacramento. Fearing for the whales’ safety, marine experts helped usher the two back toward the Pacific Ocean, an odyssey that took more than two weeks.

According to Jim Oswald of the Marine Mammal Center, this time of the year usually brings in a bounty of aquatic creatures to San Francisco’s Pacific Coast. Porpoises and dolphins also are commonly seen, especially at Ocean Beach, Oswald said.

wreisman@examiner.com

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