All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat
Farallon Islands Trip, 8am:
The morning was cold and foggy, but right away we started spotting sea lions and harbor porpoises in the bay. As we made our way past the Golden Gate Bridge, our captain spotted four spouts by Point Bonita. We proceeded slowly and watched humpbacks spread out over the strait do a few fluke dives. We wanted to push out to the islands while the weather was good, so we moved on from those whales sooner than we normally would have.
Our strategy was to move north up the Marin coastline and then head out to the islands from there. We had nice weather while heading north, and saw lots of porpoises and some bird activity, mainly common murres with their chicks. Through areas where there were known whale populations, we held a speed of 10 knots.
Once we turned west the water got choppier as we headed into the swell. Once we reached the pilot station, the water deepened and the ride was a little nicer, and we sped up to 15 knots. The last seven miles to get to the islands are always the most challenging as the water goes from deep back to shallow again, but when we were only 3 miles away I spotted two spouts 500 yards south of us.
We slowed way down and gently turned south. I assumed the whales we had found were humpbacks, but once they were 250 yards away I caught a glimpse of the unmistakable body of a blue whale.
We drifted with the two blue whales and the Oceanic Society's Salty Lady. The two blues first approached Salty Lady, then moved away from both of the boats.
Just as we started to turn away towards the islands, the two blues surfaced within 50 yards of our boat on our starboard bow and slowly dove under us before resurfacing on our port side. One of the whales seemed to be a lot bigger than the other, arousing suspicion that we had a mother and calf with us. The photos below, taken by Jennifer Hendershott, confirmed our guess.
We waited until they were 100 yards away before slowly starting to move towards the misty islands. We made it there in about fifteen minutes, and started floating by Sugarloaf on the eastern side of the island when another humpback surfaced in Fisherman's Bay within 100 yards of us. It surfaced several times on our port stern before swimming under us and reappearing on our starboard bow and moving to the other side of Sugarloaf.
The islands were coated with common murres, and Sugarloaf was covered in cormorants and gulls as well. I noticed several tufted puffins resting on the rocks below the murres.
On shore, California and steller sea lions wrestled and barked. Some of them were perched on cliffs over 20 feet above the water, and some swam in small groups close to shore. The noise of the birds and the sea lions carried far out over the water.
We slowly made our way around the lee side of the island. We had several birders on board, so together we were able to spot several more tufted puffins, a large group of red throated phallaropes, and a few Cassin's auklets. Near Garbage Gulch we spotted a resting elephant seal.
After going past Saddle Rock, we turned around and headed back for one last look at Sugarloaf. Our photographer, Jen, and some of the passengers caught a glimpse of blue-footed and brown boobies resting on the rock.
We had an easy ride back to port with the swell and the wind at our back. We did about 17 knots until we got close to the area where we know there can be large concentrations of humpbacks. We slowed to 13 knots, and then down to 10 when we reached the channel. We spotted spouts by Mile Rock and at other points in the strait, but we slowly moved past them to get back to port.
We reported the humpbacks in the strait to the Coast Guard and to NOAA on the Whale Alert app.
A huge thank you to SFWT photographer Jennifer Hendershott, who captured most of these photos. You can find more photos on her Facebook page or on the SFWT Facebook page.
***If you were on this trip 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!***