There they are! Right there," cried Jan Gianni of Windsor, pointing as a pair of feeding whales on Monday broke the ocean's surface 100 yards off Bodega Head.
Her husband, Dan, said he was shocked to see whales from shore in summer.
"I think I counted at least 10 or 12," he said. "We didn't even know they were here."
2010: Whale Watching Off Sonoma Coast
Crowds gathered along the cliffs at Bodega Head on Labor Day to witness the unusual sight. Three of the ocean giants fed in the water close to shore, occasionally spouting or showing a flipper.
A mile offshore, two other whales blew spray. One of them breached, making a visible splash.
It's not uncommon to see whales off the Sonoma County coast in summer, said Doreen Gurrola, marine science instructor at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. But it is rare to see so many, she said.
"This has been a really good year for them," she said. "There's lots of krill in the water."
Krill are small, shrimp-like marine crustaceans that are a major food source for fish, birds and marine mammals. This year, the krill population exploded, providing a banquet for whales.
The whales feeding off the Northern California coast this summer are mostly humpbacks, blues and grays, Gurrola said.
Some are "lunge feeding," diving into dense swarms of krill and gulping big mouthfuls, she said.