Explore Ocean Upwelling Firsthand!

July 1, 2006

To really see marine upwelling up close, you’d need to put on SCUBA gear and jump into the frigid Pacific to swim with the humpback whales, dolphins, sharks, and salmon that thrive off the upwelling-fueled food chain. But here are some less adventurous ways to get a little closer to the world under the waves:

The Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center, though it’s very much inside the Bay (near the east side of the San Mateo Bridge), this is a great place to see the tiny plankton that form the basis of the marine food chain. You can see copepods, diatoms, larval stages of shellfish, and many more microscopic organisms that drift in with the tides. Join Naturalist Pablo Nelson on Saturday, August 19, for a hike and plankton-collecting safari. Dip nets, plankton tow, and microscopes are available. (510)670-7270

On Saturday, August 12, from 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m., the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City is hosting an afternoon of plankton exploration. MSI instructors will be on hand to share their knowledge about these small critters of the sea. Activities include catching live plankton from the Bay, a plankton show to display real plankton (from both the Bay and Pacific Ocean) on a 25-foot big screen, and even an upwelling tank to demonstrate how upwelling works and why plankton like these spots in the water so much. This free event is open to MSI members and the general public. Space is limited; please call Tyler at (650)364-2760 ext. 16 to reserve your spot.

The Oceanic Society, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, has been leading whale watching excursions in the Bay Area for over 30 years. Each summer and fall, they head out to the Farallon Islands, where sightings often include blue and humpback whales, dolphins, as well as hundreds of sea lions and many bird species on or near the islands. The society also operates a Whale Hotline, a year-round free public information service with weekly updates on local marine life sightings and oceanic phenomena. View the Farallones schedule, or call (415)474-3385. For the whale hotline, call (415)474-0488.

San Francisco Bay Whale Watch offers naturalist-led expeditions timed specifically to view wildlife during the upwelling season. The longer days of summer allow for longer trips beyond the Gulf of the Farallones and coastal fog to the edge of the continental shelf. Humpbacks, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and blue whales are some of the species migrating through the area. Private charters are also available. (415)331-6267

Monterey Bay Whale Watch has summer and fall whale-watching trips from May through December. During upwelling, chances are good that you’ll see humpback whales, dolphins, blue whales, and killer whales. Marine biologists accompany all trips and help identify seabirds and other marine animals. Morning and afternoon trips are available. (831)375-4658

Blue Waters Kayaking offers two tours that are especially good for viewing marine wildlife during upwelling season: Drakes Estero and Hog Island in Marin County. Expert kayakers lead small groups of varying skill levels to view harbor seals, bat rays, leopard sharks, inter-tidal life, and many species of birds such as osprey, geese, white pelicans, loons, and grebes. Full-day and half-day excursions are available. The number of participants may be limited on some tours. (415)669-2600

Monterey Bay Kayaks offers kayak fishing with Allen Bushnell, local angling guru, fishing reporter, and co-host of a weekly “fish-talk” radio show in Santa Cruz. From May through October, Bushnell leads near-shore fishing adventures from Monterey Beach. Trips begin with a brief clinic on kayak fishing basics, boat outfitting, and launching strategies before paddling to productive fishing grounds. Kayaks and rod holders provided. Participants supply their own basic tackle items and valid California fishing license. (800)649-5357

For viewing sea life from the shore, Coastwalk offers three- to eight-day hiking and camping trips along the California Coastal Trail. Each coastal county has its own walk, where hikers of all ages and abilities are led by expert guides to little-known vistas, coves, and trails. Coastwalks sometimes offer camping in forts, museums, or even historic ships! The hikes feature a morning chuckwagon, evening meals, and campfire with local luminaries who provide insights into natural and cultural history. Whales, dolphins, elk, seal rookeries, and tidepools are some of the memorable sights you can see along the California Coastal Trail.

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