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“You win a few, you lose a few...”

Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching
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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 May 21, 2018

I've been wanting to do this tour for years and finally got a chance yesterday. Unfortunately you have to book so far in advance that the weather conditions are a bit of a gamble, and in this case we lost. Looks like one of my fellow passengers has already reviewed our trip and I agree that it should have been canceled. The policy (I believe) is to issue refunds for any trip under four hours, and the converse of that is that as long as they keep us out for four hours they don't have to issue refunds. So we started out with an extended tour of the Bay that you can do with any tour operator, then spent 2 hours fighting our way out to the closest Farallon Island, floated there for a little while, and headed back to SF. Total time on the boat was about 6 hours, the best wildlife sighting was a humpback in the Golden Gate, and pretty much everybody was seasick to some extent. I understand that the Oceanic Society can't control the weather and I would actually really like to try this again, but don't want to risk spending another day like yesterday. I'm at a loss as to why they let the trip go out yesterday.

I do want to give credit to our excellent crew - Susan, Alicia, and Jared - who made the best of a bad situation, did a stellar job keeping everybody safe and as warm as possible, and consistently lifted our spirits. We could tell they were disappointed too, but they stayed professional and friendly throughout. Most of the passengers were pretty unhappy and the crew managed to prevent that from escalating into something worse.

For anybody else considering this tour, look at the other reviews here and know that you'll probably have a much better experience than we did, but understand the risks (and it would be interesting to know more about under what circumstances they actually do cancel the trip). Here are a couple of other specifics you'll want to know:

* Coffee, tea, and drinkable water are provided on the boat. Food is not, and you'll probably want sandwiches or something simple like that.

* It gets COLD on the boat, and there's a decent chance you'll get wet. My girlfriend wore her skiing outfit and she was still cold. They're not kidding when they say "bring layers". I'd add that the coffee and tea are piping hot and they help a bit.

* There are toilets on the boat (maybe that's obvious).

Date of experience: May 2018
2  Thank Victor O
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
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14 - 18 of 45 reviews

Reviewed May 20, 2018

On a day with Small Craft Advisory and winds up to 30 mph, almost 40 people boarded the Salty Lady for a harrowing trip out to the Farallon Islands to search for birds and whales. Well, after over 2.5 hours getting out there with waves 8+ feet high and brutal winds from the west, several people were sick or not able to participate in the trip. We were supposed to stay several hours, but after less than 1, the powers that be, decided to head back to San Francisco. Only a few caught a glimpse of the Tufted Puffin, which was one of the big draws for some of us, and thousands of Common Murres, it was very disappointing. If we had stayed in the leeward side of the islands, more puffins may have appeared. There were none of the more unusual birds seen that had been advertised. We saw briefly 3 whales, throughout the entire trip. We got back almost 2 hours early than scheduled. I understand that birding and whale watching is not a guarantee, but I knew 2 weeks ago that today was to be very windy. There were gusts up to 40 mph, and large waves even into the Bay. This is a trip that should have been cancelled before it even started. They could have given the passengers the choice to reschedule if possible, donate the fee, or offer a refund. This was a disaster that was known before leaving the dock. I've been looking forward to see new birds as I came out to CA from NJ. I would have much preferred to have had it cancelled than suffering the super rough seas, which I'm still feeling on land, and disappointing results of seeing basically nothing new.

Date of experience: May 2018
1  Thank photo822
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
OceanicSociety, California Programs Coordinator at Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching, responded to this reviewResponded May 21, 2018

Thank you for your feedback. We’re sorry to hear that the weather conditions negatively affected your experience on our trip. Wind and waves are always a factor on these open-ocean excursions but we, and the other whale watch organizations in San Francisco, determined the conditions on the day of your trip to be within the recommended guidelines. We take passenger safety and comfort very seriously and appreciate your input. We strive to make each journey to the Farallones better than the last. Thank you.

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Reviewed September 14, 2017 via mobile

The weather cooperated and we made it out to the Farallons and past to the continental shelf. Many aquatic birds including Tuft Puffins (my favorite) and a Blue Footed Booby. We found a whale freeway past the Farallons and viewed approx 45 Humpbacks and 25 Blue Whales. We had a great time

Date of experience: September 2017
5  Thank Alfred B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 29, 2017 via mobile

A seriously great trip to go on whist visiting San Francisco! These guys are awesome, very knowledgable, friendly and helpful. The boat is great and comfortable. We saw loads and learnt even more. As far as the Farallon islands are concerned what an amazing place! if nature and wild life is your interest this trip is a must do!! So much life to be found there. We saw several species of whale, 2 or 3 species of seal, sea lions, harbour porpoise, 2 species of dolphin and more species of bird than I could count!! Amazing.. these guys do great work, please support them!! Very highly recommended.

Date of experience: August 2017
3  Thank Delajojo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed July 11, 2017

On clear days, I can see the Farallons from my house. Ten years ago my neighbor told me about her wonderful Oceanic Society Farallon Island trip, and I’ve always wanted to go but until recently was afraid of getting seasick. I usually don’t use the Scopolamine seasick patch for a day trip, but I knew I needed something stronger than the OTC meds. You need a prescription for the patch, and it has to be put on 4 hours before your trip. It last up to 3 days, but I just removed it when the trip ended.

The patch worked! The captain said that he had seen rougher seas, but what we were experiencing was pretty rough. I was surprised at how high the boat could rock, like a seesaw! Old folks like me tried to be very careful when moving around, and it was so gratifying to see helpful hands steadying fellow passengers.

Young and old really need to be alert when the seas are rough. The deck is kind of pebbly but still slippery when wet. Susan, our wonderful marine biologist warned one of the passengers to keep her foot away from the opening on the deck (covered by a movable flap), which allows water to drain; I am not a boat person so I might be wrong about the function, but I do know you don’t want your foot to slide through the opening.

The seats are slippery even when dry, and there is nothing to hang onto except the back of the seat or some kind of pipe behind the seat. You have to twist awkwardly to grab these things. You will have minimal foot traction from the deck if it is wet. When we hit a large swell, a woman near me slipped off the seat and hit her head against the ledge at the side of the boat. Susan checked on her, and she told Susan she was OK. It was a scary moment.

Even though we were told to go to the railing if we had to throw up, I would bring a seasick bag (like the kind the airlines provide (free!). Use the bag if the seas are rough. The boat can really lean, and it would not be easy to hang on to the slippery railing while your whole body is being thrown forward.

Sorry about all the doom and gloom, and may you be lucky enough to cruise on a sea of glass! In spite of the rough seas, and feeling that 8 hours at sea were a bit too long, I so enjoyed not being seasick for the full 8 hours!

Read peapod33’s excellent review. Follow his advice, and you too will not regret the Oceanic experience!

Date of experience: July 2017
4  Thank pilikiax2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
OceanicSociety, Director of Outreach at Oceanic Society Farallon Islands Whale Watching, responded to this reviewResponded July 13, 2017

Thanks so much for your positive review. Indeed, the marine conditions between San Francisco and the islands can vary dramatically from trip to trip. We hope that our descriptions and reminder email prepared you for your journey and that others see this note as well. We are glad that you enjoyed the trip and that the whales and the islands made it worthwhile. Thank you!

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

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