All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat
We embarked on our journey from sunny Pier 39 and quickly found ourselves in a thick mist. The outline of the Golden Gate Bridge was just barely visible as we headed towards the Golden Gate Strait. Once past the bridge, I sighted a spout near Point Bonita. We carefully moved into position and watched as three whales near us spouted and fluked, with 3-4 more sighted across the strait by Mile Rock. We noticed one whale 500 yards away tail slapping. The fishy stink of the whale breath stuck to the fog - we could smell it even from whales 100+ yards away!
Eventually we were forced to move across the strait to get out of the way of a large container ship. Several spouts were seen very close to the ship as it passed by. After it passed, there was lull in activity, broken briefly by some harbor porpoises heading across our bow.
As we started heading in, I noticed some frenzied bird activity and roiling surface water. We began to see anchovies leaping out of the water. We were moving at around 3 knots when a humpback surfaced on our starboard bow 75 yards from the boat. We immediately put the boat in neutral and waited for the whale to circle around the back of the boat and over to the port side, where it joined two other feeding whales. We were just to the west of the bridge's south tower, with no other boats in sight. The fog was starting to evaporate and the Golden Gate Bridge slowly emerged from the mist as birds swarmed around the whales. A few harbor seals swam by to take a look the frenzy, and anchovies seemed to be flying everywhere as they attempted futile escapes. The sonar reading underneath the boat looked like it was packed with food!
Once the whales were all 100 yards away, we continued our slow crawl towards the pier. It was a good thing we were being careful, because once inside the bay we had two more whales surface within 150 yards of the boat. Needless to say, it took us much longer than usual to get back to the dock, but we were grateful that the boat traffic was light despite a few large ships.
By the time we headed back out for our 11am tour, most of the fog had burned off. I had barely finished introducing myself to the passengers when I heard cries of "breach!" from the port side. Sure enough, we had a humpback whale heading down either side of our boat as we floated between them. Both of them stayed around 200 yards away from us, but we saw lots of flukes from them.
I wanted to check out what was happening at the bridge, so we slowly headed for the south tower. I noted a large increase in traffic had occurred while we had been at the pier; there were now several ferries, fishing boats, sailboats, and bay cruises on the water, all heading out under the bridge. We stopped just to the east of south tower and watched at least 5-6 humpbacks feeding as birds circled hungrily. They were spread out across the strait, yet still boats sped under the bridge straight through large concentrations of spouts.
We headed to the north side of the strait to see if we could slowly cruise under the bridge, but spotted more spouts on that side, including one by Cavallo Point. We decided not to pass through the group of whales, and instead opted for the more respectful option of drifting in neutral. I estimate that we saw at least 9-10 humpbacks total; we also spotted harbor seals and harbor porpoise.
I recorded both sightings on the Whale Alert app, and the Coast Guard was notified of the locations of the whales.
***If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!***