Sightings Report: September 16, 2017

9am and 12pm sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days; 3pm sighting from SFWT vessel Kitty Kat.


On our first trip of the day we quickly spotted a single whale underneath the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a humpback feeding on a 30-50 foot wall of anchovies in roughly 120 feet of water. 

The whale was 250 yards away, and we set course to position ourselves parallel to it, moving at 3 knots. To our surprise, it surfaced very close to our bow. We put the boat in neutral and floated near the bridge for the remainder of the trip. It was a good example of why it is so important to go slow around whales.

It was high tide, and dozens of harbor seals came up to check us out.

There was a swimming race happening underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and the whales came quite close to the swimmers. 

This whale wasn't throwing flukes, probably because the anchovies were already close to the surface. 


When we returned there was even more traffic than when we had left.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

Nonetheless, we found a whale in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait just outside the bridge. This humpback was showing its fluke, and I noticed that it had a different dorsal fin than the whale on the first trip, indicating that it was a different whale. 

The whale moved inside the bay near the south tower, then back into the strait. There were a few ships passing by and a lot of sailboats, motor boats, and smaller vessels. We were able to float in neutral just outside the bridge, where we saw a few close fluke dives. 

There was also some harbor porpoise activity on this trip.


I switched vessels and headed out on the next trip on the Kitty Kat. We saw a flare go off near the mouth of the Golden Gate Strait, so we went over to investigate. We found a small fishing boat in distress. Their motor wasn't working and they were caught in an outgoing tide. We called the Coast Guard and waited with the vessel until they arrived, keeping our eyes on a spout that was a few hundred yards west. 

When the occupants of the small boat were safe, we slowly approached the whale, which was just outside of Point Bonita. We positioned ourselves above the whale with the swell to our stern. 

The humpback surfaced a few times. It was 200 yards away when we saw the first full breach. I wasn't quick enough to capture that one on camera, but luckily it did a second full breach right afterward!

After that, the whale did 3-4 smaller breaches, then floated on its side slapping its pectoral fin for almost a full minute. 

As we floated in neutral, the whale then did two fluke dives 50 yards from our boat. It started heading east. We allowed it to get 100 yards away, then headed east as well. We kept a slow speed while the whale was nearby and waited until it was at least half a mile away before we came up to speed.

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!