Special Sighting: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Sightings from Monterey Bay Whale Watch vessel Sea Wolf II

This whale watching trip was an 8 hour expedition with the intent of finding killer whales. Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers these 8 hour trips in April and May.

We first headed out of the harbor around 8am, looking out for sea otters.

There were lots of sea lions resting on the jetty as well as a few playing in the water.

Near the jetty we saw male cormorants gathering nesting material and bringing it to their partners, who were building the nests.

We headed west until we got to the deep canyons of Monterey Bay. At that point we spotted a group of 50-100 Risso’s dolphins.

There were newborn calves in the group, identifiable by the presence of fetal folds. The calves stuck close to their mothers.

Risso’s dolphins do not bowride like smaller dolphins might, so we moved at slow speeds around the animals.

There were also several black-footed albatrosses in the area.

By the end of the trip I saw dozens of albatrosses, including one group of six sitting together on the water.

After we left the Risso’s dolphins, we headed west again for a bit, where we found a few humpback whales.

Two of the humpbacks were feeding together while birds and sea lions flocked around them.

We spent about twenty minutes with these animals.

After that we headed back to the south, where there were reports of more humpback whales from other whale watching boats. When we approached, we found a humpback mother and calf.

The calf was breaching for several minutes straight, allowing for lots of opportunities to photograph it.

We got a good view of the ventral side of the whale, where the umbilicus was visible.

We also saw fluke dives from both animals and some pectoral fin slaps from the calf.

After spending some time with the mother and calf we continued on south in search of some reported Pacific White Sided dolphins, but the wind was picking up and we eventually had to turn around and head back to the dock.

On the way in we stopped to look at some very cute sea otters who were eating mussels inside the harbor.

We also got a last look at the cormorants and the sea lions before we disembarked.

Sightings Report: May 4, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

12pm:

The bay was packed with boats as we headed around Angel Island, through Raccoon Strait, and towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The Sailing Grand Prix race was happening in the central bay.

When we didn’t find a whale in the bay, we headed offshore. The weather was beautiful. It wasn’t long before we started seeing spouts. We were just to the north of the shipping lane.

We had three humpback whales on this trip, including Gator, a whale we see regularly.

Two of the humpbacks stayed close together, while the other fed a little ways away from them.

We were able to smell the humpback breath from over half a mile away.

3pm:

On this trip we headed straight offshore to the place where we last saw the whales. The tide had changed and the wind picked up a bit, so it took a little longer on this trip than on the first one.

The whales were in the same spot. We saw the same three humpbacks close to us, with more spouts off on the horizon.

This time we were able to identify both Gator and Akula.

The whales were definitely feeding. We saw one lunge feed and lots of quick dives. They showed their flukes on about 2/3 of their deeper dives.

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We also spotted a group of sooty shearwaters in this area.

Sightings Report: May 3, 2019

Sighting from vessel Mirabel, approximately 11am.

Mirabel is a lovely 32’ Grand Banks captained by Dr. Ellen Hines. On Friday she invited a few students out with her to see what we could find in the bay.

The Kitty Kat was on a whale watching tour and alerted us to a gray whale just east of Angel Island. That’s where we headed first.

The gray whale was not fluking. It stayed in almost the same spot when it surfaced. There was a strong incoming tide and a bit of wind.

The Kitty Kat stayed a safe distance away from the whales and approached slowly.

After photographing the gray whale, we headed through Raccoon Strait, where we saw a sea lion preying on a fish.

We headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge, turning around near Cavallo Point. There was a lot of bird activity in the area as well as activity on the fish finder. We saw several porpoises in this area as well.

We headed back between Alcatraz and Angel Island towards the Berkeley Marina for fuel and then the Richmond Marina to end our day.

Sightings Report: May 1, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we found a gray whale near Richardson Bay. It surfaced roughly every seven minutes.

Over the course of the trip the whale slowly moved towards Tiburon. At a few points it came close to the shoreline and was diving in very shallow water.

As we headed back to the dock, we spotted one dive sequence from a humpback whale, including the fluke. The whale was in the central bay, but we didn’t see it again as we left the area. Soon after, a large oil tanker passed through the area.

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11am:

While we were at the dock, researchers at Golden Gate Cetacean Research were looking at a humpback whale off of Cavallo Point. When headed out on our next trip we went straight to the whale they were observing.

It was a humpback whale feeding on anchovies.

We saw several fluke dives from this animal. A few times it came within 100 yards of our boat.

Over the course of the trip, the whale slowly moved towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was consistent with the outgoing tide, which was likely causing the fish to move west.

We saw lots of harbor seals and California sea lions on this trip as well.

Several of the sea lions were hunting fish underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

2pm:

On our last trip of the day we went out into the Golden Gate Strait in search of the humpback. We relocated the animal in the middle of the strait.

At first we waited west of the animal to see if it was heading out. When it stayed in one spot for a while, we slowly approached.

The whale appeared to be feeding - we had huge bait balls showing on the fish finder. It was coming up at irregular intervals. A few times it lifted its tail high for a rapid deep dive.

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Sightings Report: April 30, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On our first trip of the day we found a gray whale on the east side of Angel Island near Raccoon Strait.

We floated in neutral for most of the trip while the gray whale stayed in the area. A few times it came close to our boat.

We also saw the B.A.P. Union, a Peruvian naval training tall ship as she left San Francisco Bay on her way to Vancouver.

11am:

On this trip we first headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge, looking out for humpbacks. When we didn’t see anything we headed towards Sausalito, then through Raccoon Strait to the east side of Angel Island. After waiting for a few minutes we heard reports of a gray whale in Richardson Bay, so we headed back there and were able to watch the whale for about 30 minutes.

It was a gray whale. The whale stuck close to shore in an area protected from the wind and current.

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2pm:

On our final trip we spotted a whale soon after leaving the dock. It was a gray whale spending time near Fort Mason.

The whale appeared to be feeding and came up regularly. It was in very shallow water, sometimes 25 feet or less.

The presence of the whale in this area was important because there was a lot of activity from the Sailing Grand Prix practices.

Sightings Report: April 26, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we expected wind all day. We headed towards the east side of Angel Island, where we found a gray whale.

We floated for a while while the gray whale continued to surface in the same area. It looked like an adult.

Eventually the whale appeared to move towards Tiburon.

We also saw harbor porpoises in this area.

As we approached Pier 39, we saw a raft of sea lions swimming away from the Pier.

11am:

We found the same gray whale on this trip that we’d seen on the 8am. The whale was still hanging out east of Angel Island.

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We saw the whale surface a few times as the passenger ferries passed by us.

2pm:

On our final trip of the day, we were just leaving the dock when I saw a spout behind us close to Fisherman’s Wharf. We followed the gray whale as it headed towards the sailing practice being held by the Sailing Grand Prix.

The whale was spouting just once at a time and coming up every five minutes. It was windy, so the spouts were blown down quickly.

There was a lot of traffic, including the Sailing GP practice, container ships, passenger ferries, and day sailors.

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We continued around Alcatraz towards Angel Island, looking for the whale we’d seen earlier. We were unable to locate it before we headed back to the dock.

Sightings Report: April 25, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On our first trip of the day we had a westerly wind and a creeping fog making its way into the bay. We headed to the east side of Angel Island, where we were protected from the wind. There we found a gray whale.

The gray whale was diving every seven minutes or so and stayed in the same area for the whole trip. We floated in neutral for most of the trip.

We also saw seabirds, including a pair of Bonaparte’s Gulls.

11am:

On our next trip, we spotted a spout between Alcatraz and Angel Island. It was windy in this area, so the spouts were blown down quickly. Fog was creeping in over Marin and through the Golden Gate Bridge.

2pm:

On this trip we received reports from the Coast Guard of a spout near Blossom Rock. We went to check it out but were unable to locate a whale in that area.

We made our way around the bay to Sausalito, then went through Raccoon Straits. We paused on the east side of Angel Island. As we waited, we saw a spout.

We saw the gray whale come up a few times, but it stayed away from our boat.

Sightings Report: April 17, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this first trip of the day we quickly found a whale east of the shipping lane. The whale moved towards Treasure Island, diving in 20-30 feet of water. I didn’t take any photos on this trip, but SFWT photographer Joey did. Check out his flickr.

11am:

On this trip we located a whale between Alcatraz and Angel Island. On our first sighting the whale came up within 50 yards of the boat.

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After our first sighting, the whale surfaced every 10-12 minutes and appeared to be going back and forth between Alcatraz and the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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2pm:

For our final trip we found a whale on the east side of Angel Island.

This whale stayed in roughly the same location for the whole trip and surfaced regularly at 5-7 minute intervals.

We saw a couple of fluke dives from this animal.

Sightings Report: April 10, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On this trip we were able to find a gray whale surfacing on the northeast side of Angel Island.

The whale popped up regularly every seven minutes. It began to move towards Angel Island.

Eventually the whale moved towards Tiburon before heading back out towards the east shipping lane.

Sightings Report: April 9, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On our first trip of the day we spotted the gray whale near Southampton light.

The whale was spouting every ten minutes and kept its distance from us.

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11am:

On this this trip we found a gray whale close to Angel Island near the shipping lane. Bill Keener from Golden Gate Cetacean Research was on vessel Oscar Tango observing the gray whale.

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The whale swam close to shore and seemed to be swimming against the current, moving towards Raccoon Strait.

2pm:

On this trip we had a hard time locating a whale.

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Near the end of the trip we were floating on the east side of Angel Island, searching for whales, when a gray whale popped up 50 yards off our bow and gave us a good look.