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“A Life Experience, a must do for real nature lovers!”

Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching
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Attraction details
Owner description: Oceanic Society is a non-profit marine conservation organization founded in San Francisco in 1969. Our San Francisco whale watch programs began in 1972, and have given thousands of people the opportunity to see and learn about the Bay Area's spectacular marine wildlife, including several species of whales, dolphins, seabirds, and much more. We are the only non-profit whale watch operator in the Bay Area, and our trips are used to collect marine research and support local conservation efforts.
Reviewed August 7, 2016

Forget the regular tourist crap.
Chris, and Sue are both impressive in there knowledge love of this part of the world. This is a well run adventure. The information given before the trip as to how to dress and what to bring was spot on. I loved the fact that the money goes towards the Oceanic Society. I first thought that it maybe overpriced but it turned out to be the best money we spent on our two week vacation.We saw 50+ whales, blue, humpback and others. The islands are home to all kinds wildlife that is identified and described in detail. Even a Blue-Footed Booby! Sue even spent a week on the islands and shared her experiences. The boat did have a full amount of people but had plenty of room for everyone to sit, and we all got to the rail when we wanted to.
Be Clear, this is not a Cruse ship or Yacht trip. If the is how you roll this is NOT for you! It's a working fishing boat. Not built to pamper you. You will get cold, wet and will not coddled if you get sea sick. I would leave your sullen, phone staring teens and little ones at the dock. Not for them.
Anyone who does not give 5 stars did not heed the information given beforehand and belong on land. For me, this is my natural element and was in heaven.

Date of experience: July 2016
11  Thank Joe S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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"humpback whales"
in 8 reviews
"continental shelf"
in 4 reviews
"common murres"
in 4 reviews
"rough seas"
in 4 reviews
"sea life"
in 5 reviews
"bird species"
in 3 reviews
"great trip"
in 5 reviews
"blue footed booby"
in 2 reviews
"unusual birds"
in 2 reviews
"small craft"
in 2 reviews
"marine biologist"
in 2 reviews
"open ocean"
in 2 reviews
"fellow passengers"
in 2 reviews
"magical experience"
in 2 reviews
"once in a lifetime"
in 3 reviews
"clear days"
in 2 reviews
"recommend this trip"
in 2 reviews

22 - 26 of 45 reviews

Reviewed June 14, 2016

Whale watching out of Sausalito w/ the Oceanic Society, aboard the 'Salty Lady.' My high rating is honest - and it is well deserved by the crew, the Oceanic Society, the gorgeous ocean & the fabulous cast of the ocean.

Honestly, I think those who give low stars here do NOT know how to read, or think that all the careful notes and "warnings" that the Oceanic Society gives must not be for their very special unicorn selves. They note it is a long day, they note is can be rough seas as it's the real Pacific people - not some sunset cruise in Cabo. So why be surprised when it is a long day with some real ocean action? The Society very clearly states on its pages that it will be cold, it will be windy, it will be wet (hey, it's the ocean). So why do people show up in leggings and a sweatshirt???? The site & follow up emails the Oceanic Society sends notes to please take seasickness meds, dress warmly & waterproofed, and bring snacks/drinks.

We sailed on a Sunday, and on Sundays you can only leave from Sausalito at the Clipper Yacht Club Harbor. Easy to find - just park in the main "back" parking area, don't park by the office/ restaurants, etc. Free Parking. The 'Salty Lady' is in the "1" area of the Harbor- so just a tiny bit to the right of where you pull in & park. You must be there by/ before the check in time. The Oceanic Society naturalist we had (who was epic! sorry forgot his name, but he had an British accent) had everyone huddle round the pier to sign in, and then about 10 minutes or so later gave a bit of the "what to expect" talk. He was a marine biologist - and was friendly, fun, but also really honest on what to expect and what we may or may not see (the ocean is a fickle queen). Then you get to walk down & load onto the boat. Very nice crew, great captain who has been sailing since the 70's I believe. The really gave us a good experience and watched safety at the same time. Boat in good shape. This is a fishing boat - not a pleasure cruiser so please know (and be considerate about):
1. This isn't meant to be a SEATED pleasure cruise. That said,there are not enough sitting areas for all if the tour has the normal capacity (boat won't be crowded, it's just its a fishing boat, not the Love Boat).
2. Rotate! Have some manners & grace and do try to rotate out the seats so people can take breaks from their feet. (There were people who parked there basically 7 out of 8 hours of the tour - so not sure why they went on it as they wouldn't of seen anything from the seats. Nada). Also good to try to rotate a bit on where you're standing, both for consideration as well as to get different views/ aspects.
3. Safety: store your backpacks (no coolers) in the under bench storage or equipment storage areas to keep them dry as well as to keep the deck safe.

Now that I've scared you - DON'T BE. IT WAS A-MAZ-ING. Dressed warmly (just b/c it's June doesn't mean warm ---- think 8 hours of feeling with winds like it's about 35-40F) . We took seasick meds (BONINE) 2 hours beforehand.Had scopamine patches & ginger candies w/ us as well as the site-recommended crackers/drinks + snacks. We wore (in June) jeans with waterproof wind resistant pants over them - you can find them affordably at places like LL Bean, REI,etc. Wore layered t shirts w thick fleece jackets and then weather/ water/ wind proof shells over that. Plus baseball caps and/ or stocking caps (wind = ears) and brought gloves we were glad we took. Sunglasses are a must (and wipes to clean them off of all the salt) + a LOT of sunscreen. Packed those one-use hand warmers (hunters, construction folks use them) and almost used them - I'd suggest bringing them. That said - we were super happy and comfy (if windburned at the end). I will note - at LEAST half of the people got sick. Most I talked to either had never been on a boat before, hadn't taken any seasick meds, didn't have snacks/meds or a combination of all three. I felt really bad for them (not fun), and did offer patches & ginger candies to one lovely lady who within 40 minutes was right as rain. Getting sick can affect the rest of the attendees as well, as people had to step over people & there were some prime watching areas blocked at some points due to ill people. If you've never been on a boat, or never on rougher seas like an ocean - I wouldn't recommend this really as your first boat trip ever. Take a trip on one of the 1 hour trips around the bay from some of the fishing boats by Fishermans Wharf first and see how you do. There was a mix of people, including a good amount of folks in their 50's and 60's, as well as some in their 20's but no kids (not sure if they allow, could be dangerous). Definitely good to not have mobility issues as you need a lot of balance and strength, as well as dexterity to hold on (at all times) and navigate around the boat.

It takes about 2 hours to get out to the Farallon Islands - more if the captain or anyone spots anything great along the way. We stopped along the way for a whale sighting. The naturalist came around all the time answering questions, pointing out sea birds, talking about what kind of sea life was expected in each area, and some history of the upcoming islands. He had charts/ maps as well as a great book on the islands. The entire boat is instructed to shout out & point if they see anything - and use the 'clock' method (whale at 1 o'clock!) so that everyone can know and the captain & crew can adjust/ steer over as much as possible. Whale spouts are about 8-10 ft high, and look a bit more like fine mist or a puff of smoke than the Disney cartoon "whale spout", but once you get the hang of looking at the horizon, it's easier to know what to look for. Once at the islands is a good time to have a snack (that you've brought) as well. I advise to bring binoculars (on a sturdy neck strap) and a good camera (with a strong/ telephoto lens) on a good strap as its quite bouncy and can get rough--you want a good view and some good memories, but its easy for people to lose their phones when using as a camera and it's just hard to get good pics that way. That said - ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE and don't be obsessed with getting pics.. or you'll miss the beauty and experience of it all.

Once we got around the island - WOW. We had 8 confirmed Humpback whale sightings - both smaller/ young whales and larger whales. Some very, very close - such a magical experience to see. Also saw Mora Moro aka the Sunfish - that was stellar in color. LOTS of "egg yolk" jellyfish, lots of sea lions/ seals in about 5 different species - including the rarer, golden "Steller's Sea Lion" and the (hunted almost to extinction) Fur Sea Lion. Lots of Sea Lions on cliffs, swimming, battling - gorgeous. The birders had a lot of fun, as did everyone with lots of cool birds, including Puffins, Common Murrers, Cormorants and more. Saw more whales, birds, jellyfish on the way back, as well as a Great White's fin. Only thing we really didn't see was porpoises. Captain & crew did a great job of observing laws for safety of the animals while getting us as much views & experiences as they could. They were very mindful of safety & comfort, as much as you can on the high seas. Props to them!

Easy way on the way home, but still about 2 hours. We were definitely tired & sleepy from the fresh air & excitement on the way back. Very windburned - ow. Definitely will be back with the Salty Lady & the Oceanic Society. They run a whale watching tour in the Winter/ Spring in Half Moon Bay as well - cannot wait to experience that. The experience of seeing whales in person was something I've always dreamed of - highly recommended as long as you prepare, read all the warnings & suggestions and then double prepare!

Date of experience: June 2016
20  Thank peapod33
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 30, 2015

If you're interested in whales or seabirds, and will be in the San Francisco Bay Area during summer or autumn, don't fail to visit the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Whale sightings aren't guaranteed (see their "Whale Watching Terms and Conditions), but over something like 10 trips with the Oceanic Society I've always seen whales. I've only done this trip in September or October and generally seen humpbacks, but I've also seen blue whales, grey whales and, once, a fin whale.

Each trip is unique. On one trip, we saw hundreds of dolphins, with many leaping out of the water, and some riding the boat's bow wave. On another trip, we encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of seabirds in a feeding frenzy. Over the years on my various trips with Oceanic Society, I've seen Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso's dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, Dall's and harbor porpoises, a small ocean sunfish (Mola Mola), and even a great white shark biting a California sea lion.

The Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is the largest seabird rookery in the contiguous United States. Bird species seen in the sanctuary are too numerous to name, but my favorite often-sighted species are black-footed albatross, tufted puffin, rhinoceros auklet, sooty shearwater and phalaropes.

On my September 2015 trip, we didn't see many bird varieties, nor blue whales, which, according our naturalist guide Nancy, had moved farther out to deeper, colder water more hospitable to krill, which the blue whales eat. (It was an El Niño year.) But we did we see brown boobies, cormorants, northern fur seals, harbor seals, a few endangered Steller sea lions, elusive harbor porpoises, a pod of short-beaked common dolphins, bonita and anchovies.

We also saw many common murres with their chicks. This was difficult year for this species, with countless found dead on northern California beaches. The cause was thought to be the warmer waters of El Niño, which forced these birds to dive deeper.

In an area busy with large-ship traffic we viewed 14 humpbacks in all, including some lunge feeding! Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain photos or videos of this behavior, because my body chose this moment to get seasick. A small craft advisory had been issued, so the waves were choppy and it was a rolling journey. The trip on the open ocean can be rough, so don't forget to take seasickness medication if you're prone (I did, but it didn't work this time). The portion of the trip from San Francisco's Marina Yacht Harbor to the Golden Gate is generally calm—and quite beautiful. From-the-water views of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, and Alcatraz are wonderful, and the experience of sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is spectacular and highly memorable.

Dress warmly in layers, even if the forecast is for fine weather. It was warm and sunny when we set off from San Francisco, but it was grey, foggy, and cold beyond the Golden Gate.

Date of experience: September 2015
8  Thank PassarinhoAzul
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
OceanicSociety1969, Director of Outreach at Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching, responded to this reviewResponded December 7, 2015

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review, and for joining us on so many trips to the Farallon Islands. We are grateful to have repeat customers like you who share our appreciation for the incredible wildlife visible just off our shores. Thank you!

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Reviewed October 5, 2015

Very well run. I liked the fact they call the day before and talk to you so you are well prepared. This is not a leisure cruise. You are on a fishing boat. Staff were very well informed and very helpful. i would recommend this cruise.

Date of experience: September 2015
4  Thank rands23
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
OceanicSociety1969, Director of Outreach at Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching, responded to this reviewResponded December 7, 2015

Thank you for joining us and for posting about your experience on TripAdvisor. We're pleased to know that you enjoyed your day with us and are very grateful for your recommendation! Hope you'll join us again sometime.

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Reviewed September 18, 2015

We had a very good experience, even though the sea was absolutely brutal when we were out there. Lots of good wildlife and birds, including 6 humpback whales that came so close to us (we didn't approach them) that we could hear their spouts.

The captain and the deck hands/naturalists all did a great job in helping us get the most out of a full day at sea, in one of the great biological attractions in the country.

Advice: wear waterproof clothes, including pants, dress in layers, make sure you eat something before heading out, try to keep your stuff in the interior of the cabin where it won't get soaked by waves.

Date of experience: September 2015
4  Thank Racandee
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
OceanicSociety1969, Director of Outreach at Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching, responded to this reviewResponded December 7, 2015

Thank you for the great review! The weather conditions can indeed be challenging on some days, and we're glad to hear that it didn't take away from your experience. Hope to see you again soon.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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