Photo courtesy of Philip Hu
A whale raises its flukes in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents don't have to travel far to get a taste of a mysterious world that exists just miles away from their back yards - a national park beneath the sea, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
The San Francisco-based Oceanic Society will kick off its 22nd annual Whale Watching season with special day trips to the Farallon Islands June 4-5 in celebration of World Environment Day.
The non-profit, which pioneered whale-watching trips in 1983, has departure points in San Francisco, Tiburon, Princeton by the Sea and Half Moon Bay.
During the outings, the Oceanic Society's naturalists locate and identify whales and other wildlife. They provide informative talks and facilitate discussions on the biology and ecology of marine life and the human history of the islands.
The Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is the largest seabird rookery in the eastern Pacific, south of Alaska. The surrounding waters are part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, a bountiful marine ecosystem attracting endangered whales, sharks and huge schools of dolphins.
Located 27 miles from San Francisco, the islands are roosting grounds for more than 300,000 birds each summer, including nesting Tufted Puffins, Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, murres, oystercatchers and cormorants.
The islands' beaches are covered with California sea lions, northern elephant seals, harbor seals, fur seals and the endangered, massive Steller's sea lions.
Thirty-three species of marine mammals thrive in surrounding nutrient-rich waters including humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, killer whales and northern right whale dolphins. Blue whales, the largest animals to have ever lived, migrate to the Gulf of the Farallones to feed on krill, small fish and crabs.
The public is invited to explore this national park of the sea.
Boat trips are available through November on Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays. As a safety precaution, participants must be at least 10 years old, and an adult must accompany youths under 15.
World Environment Day trips leave from San Francisco aboard the 50-foot Wacky Jacky or from Half Moon Bay aboard the 56-foot Salty Lady.
The Oceanic Society was founded in 1969 to fund conservation-based research projects around the world.
Its mission is to protect marine wildlife through scientific research, environmental education and volunteerism.
Since 1984, more than 45,000 people have taken part in its Farallon Islands expeditions.
For reservations, call (415) 474-3385 or log on to www.oceanicsociety.org.