albatross

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: September 8, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

We headed out towards the Farallon Islands with heavy wind in the forecast. We started up the north coast to Bolinas, then turned west towards the islands.

The swell and wind were heavy, but we persevered and eventually made it to the Farallons.

The islands were covered in California sea lions, Stellar’s sea lions, and northern fur seals.

Near the islands we spotted several black footed albatrosses and a few tufted puffins.

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There were some murres near the islands, but they were finished with nesting for the year.

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Near the islands we spotted two feeding humpback whales. The whales threw flukes and surfaced in synchrony with each other.

Sightings Report: June 10, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

There was wind in the forecast as we headed out towards the Farallons. The weather seemed pretty good outside the Golden Gate Strait, so we decided to pass a few humpback whale spouts in favor of beating the wind to the islands. We turned north to Bolinas before turning west towards the islands. 

The weather held until about 10 miles from the islands, when the wind started to pick up. Not long after that we spotted our first blue whale.

The whale surfaced in front of us and then seemed to move north. There were large red splotches on the surface of the water, indicating huge masses of krill.

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The whale was feeding in 180 feet of water. 

We continued on, only to be stopped by a set of three blue whales a couple of miles west. 

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These three blues included a pair who surfaced and spouted together, along with another individual not far away. One of them came within 75 yards of our boat. 

We also spotted a humpback near the boat at this point. 

We decided to continue on with six more miles to the islands. We were spotting spouts to the south, but we headed for the far side of the Farallons. There were lots of sooty shearwaters, common murres, and northern fulmars flying around. 

We made it to the Farallons and started at Mirounga Bay. We spotted some northern fur seals, sea lions, and elephant seals on the islands and in the water near the rocks.

We also spotted a couple of tufted puffins in the air, a rhinocerous auklet floating in the water, and lots of murres, cormorants, gulls, and pigeon guillemots. 

We started our journey back towards land with the wind and the swell at our stern. After going a few miles, we started seeing spouts again. 

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We kept the bow pointed east and did not approach any of the whales, planning to parallel them without doubling back. At least ten blue whales spouted around us, several within 150 yards of us. At least ten more humpbacks were in the area as well.

At one point three humpbacks surfaced near our starboard bow, then came closer and closer before finally coming within 5 yards of the boat. 

The humpbacks dove underneath us and reappeared at our stern with several more blue whales. 

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We also spotted a black footed albatross in this area. 

We continued on towards land, seeing spouts 300-500 yards away for the next 5-7 miles. 

We spotted several California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys on the way in, and saw a single spout in the Golden Gate Strait before we ducked back under the Golden Gate Bridge and headed back to Pier 39. 

Sightings Report: May 13, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallons Trip: 

We had just started on our Farallon Islands trip when we found a humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw a fluke dive and decided to continue past it to increase our chances of making it to the islands. 

There was a southern wind to 10 knots forecasted, but we had pretty much no wind as we headed west. We were able to make good time and covered twenty miles quickly. At one point the captain reported a leatherback turtle, but we were unable to locate it. We did see several large Pacific Sea Nettles. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

Eight miles from the islands we started to see spouts. There was a group of five humpbacks swimming very close together, surfacing in synchrony. 

Humpback whales. 

Humpback whales. 

There were a couple of huge spouts from blue whales. At one point, a fin whale surfaced 75 yards from us. There was also a large group of common murres in this area, along with other bird species. 

Blue whale. 

Blue whale. 

One of the humpbacks came 50 yards from our boat. It seemed to be on the small side. Most of these whales were not doing fluke dives. 

We also saw a black-footed albatross gliding ahead of us and land on the water. 

We also saw a sea lion floating in the water in this area. We picked up a balloon as well. 

We continued on towards the islands. Observers at the lighthouse informed us that there were orcas near the continental shelf, so we went past the islands and continued five miles past them in search of the orcas. We saw no spouts of any kind, but there were a lot of birds in the area. 

A couple more albatrosses were flying near us. We were in 2500 feet of water, with lots of krill. I was surprised that there were absolutely no spouts. 

We slowly made our way back to the islands, coming around to Mirounga Bay and working our way east. The islands were full of sea lions, murres, cormorants and gulls. 

We saw several tufted puffins, both in the air and floating on the water. 

Eventually we started to make our way back towards the Golden Gate. On our way back we had several whale sightings from a distance. 

3pm: 

We headed out for our final trip of the day. Passengers spotted a spout underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It took a while to spout again, but when it did we were able to confirm that it was a gray whale. 

There was a huge amount of ship traffic, both inbound and outbound. 

We observed some harbor seals and harbor porpoises in this spot as well. 

Eventually we decided to continue out and find humpbacks. We found three out past Mile Rock, including some familiar flukes. Two of them were staying pretty close together. 

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The whales were near a big group of cormorants. 

Near the end of our observation period, a humpback surfaced 75 yards off our port bow and swam to our starboard stern. 

Special Sighting: Wild Ocean Tasmania

My sister Helen and I both enjoy wildlife related activities, so when we got to Tasmania we sought out responsible eco-tours in the area. I stumbled upon Wild Ocean Tasmania, a small company owned by Damo and Suzy. They run the business out of a shipping container in their backyard and use a small 12-person pontoon boat to explore the Tasmanian coastline. Their focus on adventure and education sounded perfect to us. 

We arrived at Eaglehawk Neck around 9:00 a.m. and were supplied with cozy dry suits before Suzy drove us down to the marina. Damo was already there and loaded us on the boat. They warned that swells had been large the previous day and rain was in the forecast. Helen and I had explored the area on foot the previous day and had encountered some snow at the tip of Cape Huay.  

Helen lives on the edge...

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We set off to explore some of the rock formations of the Tasman peninsula. With a small, maneuverable vessel, we could duck into caves and around towering dolerite monuments. Damo explained that these columns were part of a single 4000-kilometer-long formation which extends from Australia all the way to Antarctica. The formations are the result of volcanic activity, most likely formed during the Jurassic Period. 

We slowly made our way along the coast towards the cape. I had my eye out for albatross, and as we came around a corner I got my first glimpse of one. I pointed it out, and Damo confirmed that we were looking at a shy albatross, which can grow to have wingspans of over 8 feet. He also told us that of the 22 species of albatross currently in existence, only 3 are expected to survive the next decade. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing these magnificent creatures. Over the course of the trip, we would see at least a dozen more.  

We also noted some black faced cormorants resting on the rocks. In the air we spotted crested terns, silver gulls, a sea eagle and an Australasian gannet. 

We made our way around the Totem pole, a magnificent dolerite column at the tip of Cape Huay.

The Totem Pole stands almost 1,000 feet high.

The Totem Pole stands almost 1,000 feet high.

The rock shot straight up in the air for hundreds of feet. A few Australian fur seals lounged on the rocks near the base. 

We headed off in the direction of Cape Pillar, which Damo and Suzy thought would be the best spot to see fur seals. On our way over we noticed a huge swarm of dark brown birds. They were short-tailed shearwaters.

These amazing birds travel thousands of miles to all mate on a single night on the cliffs of the Tasmanian peninsula. They soon engulfed us as they dove for krill. 

After watching the shearwaters for a while, we headed into some of the fur seal spots. The swell was large, but we decided to attempt to take a look in the water. 

Fur seals in the water with the shearwaters.

Fur seals in the water with the shearwaters.

Damo and Suzy have engineered a unique platform which allows snorkelers to lie still. That way Suzy could use a small, very quiet motor to drag four people at a time through the water with minimal kicking and splashing so as not to disturb the seals. 

The water was very cold on our faces, but our bodies were nice and cozy inside the dry suits. We entered the water 200 yards from the nearest seals; then Suzy quietly drove us away from the boat and we waited to see if we would be approached. 

The plant life on the sea floor was beautiful. The kelp swayed in time with the swell, and we saw krill and semaphores drift by. One male Australian fur seal swam up to us, but only stayed for a few seconds before zooming underneath us and out of sight. 

Due to the large swell, Suzy decided to pull us out of the water. We climbed back on board and drank some hot tea while watching the fur seals on shore and in the water. 

On our way back a group of common dolphins began to bowride off the vessel. Damo slowed to accommodate them. They were engaging in playful behavior in our wake. I was able to see some social behaviors happening underwater as well, including lots of touching and swimming upside-down. 

The dolphins stayed with us for a few minutes before we headed back towards Cape Huay. We heard reports of a leopard seal that had just eaten a cormorant near there, but we were unable to locate it. 

Our journey back was filled with more wonderful albatross sightings as we enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather and turquoise water. 

Upon our return to their property, Susie showed us the baby wallabies she rescues. Many of their mothers are hit by cars. She feeds them by hand until they are big enough to be released back into the wild on their property. She told us that now the wallabies she rescued are showing up with their own joeys. 

We rewarded our successful trip with coffee and a picnic overlooking Eaglehawk Neck.

Finding a picturesque coffee bar and the ensuing picnic table dance

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I will certainly be back to experience the wildlife of Tasmania again. I highly recommend touring with Susie and Damo for an unforgettable, eco-conscious experience.  

Sightings Report: September 10, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

We started off the day with good sea conditions and a lot of fog. We saw harbor porpoises and harbor seals on our way out. The forecast said the fog was to extend to 10 miles offshore; however, it didn't start to clear up until we reached the islands. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

When we were close to the Farallons, we spotted our first tufted puffin in the water near the boat. We moved over to Fisherman's Bay and spotted a juvenile yellow-billed loon in the water. 

As we made our way around the islands, we spotted lots of California and Steller sea lions on the shore and a few in the water. Some elephant seals were sighted inside Garbage Gulch. 

There were lots of drifting creatures in the water near the islands, including pelagic tunicates and moon, box, fried egg, and comb jellies. 

We headed off towards the continental shelf, hoping to find whales. We went west of the Farallons and started heading northwest. We found one whale just a few miles from the island but had reports of more whales a few miles ahead from the Oceanic Society on the Salty Lady, so we pushed onward. 

40 miles offshore we found a dozen humpbacks and 2-3 blue whales feeding in over 1000 feet of water. The ocean became a deep turquoise; our equipment said it was 63 degrees. In the photos below, the whales with dark bodies are humpbacks and the ones with light gray bodies are blue whales.

We saw flukes and spouts from the humpbacks and one fluke from a blue whale. One of the humpbacks was entangled in a buoy near the Salty Lady, who reported the whale to the Coast Guard. 

There were 2-3 black-footed albatrosses present at the shelf as well as many gulls. 

Black footed albatross.

Black footed albatross.

We left the area with a long journey home ahead of us. As we passed west of the Farallons, we spotted a lot of thrashing. As we got closer we saw it was a couple of sea lions tossing around an unidentified fish as hungry birds gathered overhead. 

We headed back down the middle of the shipping lane, where we spotted 3 mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish. We picked up a balloon nearby. 

The water as we came in was unusually glassy. The fog had cleared and we had a calm, quick ride in with no whale sightings. 

3pm: 

On our next trip we decided to go back up the shipping lane and see if we had missed any whales on our way back in. We saw a lot of bird activity, harbor porpoises, and a harbor seal as we made our way through San Francisco Bay and then the Golden Gate Strait.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

We ended up finding 4 humpbacks at shipping lane buoys 1/2. We saw a few fluke dives and spouts. Two different whales did tail slaps, with one slapping repeatedly. 

There was some shipping traffic coming in. We spotted California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys and red necked phalaropes in the water. 

All sightings near the shipping lane were reported to Vessel Traffic.

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