Play Day at the Beach

Brian Fitch

Yesterday morning, my wife and I spent a couple of hours with our grand kids on the coast, at the foot of Lincoln in SF.  While digging a wind shelter/sand castle, I looked up and saw a juvenile Elegant Tern swooping down on a Sanderling flock at the edge of the surf.  The tern continued its apparent play for several minutes, each time sending the shorebirds running in various directions, but never making any contact, or landing.  I've never witnessed this behavior, and it ended only after passing humans flushed the Sanderlings.

Shortly afterward, we noticed three Bottlenosed Dolphins just beyond the breaker line, and proceeded to watch them lolling and sometimes frolicking in the swell.  Two were apparent adults, and the third was noticeably smaller, at most 3/4th's regular size.  After watching for a while, my wife surmised that the adults might be involved in the continuation of the species.  With that possibility in mind, I soon proved her right, as the pair were seen at the top of a breaking wave, belly to belly, and the male broke away in time for me to see his anatomical details through my binoculars.  Another first, and while we kept the young humans (ages 7 & 4) in the dark concerning what type of play the dolphins were taking part in, it left us wondering about the third, smaller individual, and sex-ed among cetaceans.

Around 12:30, as we were preparing to leave, I stood up to scan for any tubenoses on the horizon, and instead discovered the huge flipper of a Humpback, as it splashed back and forth slowly, but repeatedly.  For several minutes, nothing but the flipper or an occasional spout were visible, until the leviathan finally turned upright, showed its hump, and dove out of sight.

Other avian species were as described in previous reporters' posts.
Brian Fitch

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