bait ball

Sightings: 7/17/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we had beautiful sea conditions and excellent visibility with very little wind. We headed out past the shipping lane, where we found 5 humpback whales feeding.

The whales were in about 82 feet of water. 4 of them stayed within a few yards of each other for most of the time we observed them.

One of the whales had a propeller scar across its back. We identified her as the famous “Prop Mama.” She’s an older female who has had several calves, one of whom was killed by orcas a few years ago in Monterey. She is a repeat visitor to this area.

We saw lunge feeds from these animals as well as lots of fluke dives. We were also able to smell whale breath several times.

We also saw one whale roll on its side and slap its pectoral fin on the water multiple times. There were also a few tail slaps.

Near the end of the trip, three of the whales stuck together while one headed off in the direction of some small fishing boats.

We saw birds, porpoises, and sea nettles in the area as well. We were able to spend about 45 minutes with these animals.


On our next trip we headed out through the shipping lane, again experiencing excellent conditions. However, near the end of the shipping lane we hit a huge bank of fog with less than a quarter mile of visibility.

We moved slowly through the area as we started to see huge bait balls of anchovies.

Even though the fog was dense, we found a humpback whale.


We saw a couple of lunge feeds from the animal, as well as some shallow fluke dives. The whale ended up swimming around the boat about 50 yards from us. It was in about 100 feet of water.

A huge school of anchovies passed directly underneath our boat.


We saw some container ships moving through the fog in this area. When we started our trip home, the dense fog had moved east all the way to San Francisco Bay, meaning that it had crept about 10 miles east while we were watching the whale.


We also saw some common murres with chicks in this area.

Sightings Report: June 26, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we found whales west of Muir Beach in the same spot we’d seen them for the past few weeks.

There were five humpbacks feeding in 82 feet of water. One of them was close to us and the other four were farther to the northwest.

We observed some feeding behavior and fluke dives from the animals. Lots of fishing boats were nearby and we saw birds carrying anchovies, but we didn’t see much on the fish finder.

We spent about 30 minutes with these animals before starting to head back. As we headed back we found another humpback feeding on anchovies. We saw a lunge feed and a fluke dive from this animal.


On our second trip we returned to the same area, where we found three humpbacks feeding in 55 feet of water.

We did saw some fluke dives from these animals.

There were thick bait balls of anchovies that the whales were herding and feeding on.

There were also lots of birds in the area, including murres carrying anchovies.

Some large ships passed by in the shipping lane. The Salty Lady was observing these whales as well.

Sightings Report: June 25, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we found whales several miles off of Muir Beach.

We initially found just one animal, then spotted more whales heading towards us. They were herding the bait and feeding cooperatively.

We had five humpbacks in this area and saw behaviors including tail slapping and lunge feeding.

There were fishing vessels and birds around the whales who were also taking advantage of the anchovies. We were in about 70 feet of water.


One of the whales we saw on this trip was Gator, a frequent visitor to San Francisco.


On our next trip we found humpback whales very close to the spot where we had left them. Two humpbacks were feeding in 47 feet of water.


We saw fluke dives from these animals. I was able to spot Gator again using the whale’s distinct dorsal fin.

Birds hovered over the whales, indicating that they were feeding. Despite big swell and some wind, we stayed with the whales for about half an hour.


Sightings Report: June 23, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we found two traveling humpbacks several miles off of Muir Beach.

They were in about 80 feet of water. We saw a breach and a pectoral fin as the whale rolled on its side.

There was some bird activity, particularly over anchovy bait balls.

We stayed with the whales for about 30 minutes before heading back to port.


On the next trip we headed straight west. As we were heading out, we got a report from the Outer Limits that several humpbacks had been seen near buoys 7 and 8. We headed there, but didn’t see anything.

We headed to the northwest and found three feeding humpbacks in the area.

They were lunge feeding, rolling onto their sides, and one was slapping its pectoral fin.

There was bird activity in the area, and we could see bait balls shimmering at the surface.

The whales were in 75 feet of water.

We spent about 35 minutes with these whales, then headed towards the Golden Gate Strait. We were just outside Point Bonita when the captain spotted another humpback whale.

The whale had surfaced just a hundred yards northwest of the lighthouse. We waited a few minutes and were rewarded with a fluke dive from Mercedes Benz - number 12 in our catalog. This whale is a frequent visitor to San Francisco - we’ve seen it every year since 2016.

Sightings Report: September 7, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


Our first trip of the day was greeted by some morning rain. This is a very strange occurrence in September. The rain was paired with southerly winds and a relatively warm temperature.

We saw lots of harbor porpoise activity and two harbor seals swimming side by side on our way out into the strait. The tide was coming in as we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Golden Gate Strait, and out into the shipping lane. 

The first thing we noticed were California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys 5 & 6. Soon we found spouts from three different humpbacks feeding in only 35 feet of water on the south side of the shipping lane. 

There were a few fluke dives in addition to shallower dives. The whales stayed at least 200 yards away from us. We followed slowly and at a distance as they moved across to the north side of the lane. We made sure that Vessel Traffic was aware of their presence so close to the shipping lane. 

There was a lot of harbor porpoise activity on this trip. We left the area slowly, then rode the western swell back to port. 


On our second trip of the day we found the whales in the exact same spot we had left them at shipping buoys 5 & 6. They were in 48 feet of water, the first 17 feet of which were packed with anchovies. Two whales were feeding on several giant bait balls. We could see the surface of the water boiling with anchovies as they leaped into the air in an attempt to escape the predators below, only to land in the waiting beaks of hungry birds. 

We saw the two humpbacks do fluke dives, and had one breach off our stern. There was a single fishing boat nearby. We used the boathook to pick up a piece of trash which turned out to be a wrapper from a container of frozen squid. It was certainly from a fishing boat. 

The whales were elusive and for the most part stayed at least a couple hundred yards away. As we floated near a ball of bait, one whale surfaced within 70 feet of us. Near the end the whales seemed to be moving out, and we eventually lost sight of them. 



On our way back in, we spotted two more humpbacks by the junction buoy outside of Point Bonita. There was a lot of bird activity and quite a few fishing boats in the area. We couldn't stay very long to watch them, so we slowly continued on our way back to the pier. 

Point Bonita.

Point Bonita.


The weather on this trip was the nicest it had been all day. The water was glassy and the wind had died. We headed out towards the junction buoy where we left the whales. We found a huge group of wailing birds and lots of fish, but no whales. 

We moved slowly through the area, hoping to pick up a spout. When we didn't find anything, we continued out to buoys 5 & 6 where we had seen whales earlier. Again, we saw huge bait balls where the water boiled with anchovies, large numbers of feeding harbor porpoises, lots of bird activity and several jellyfish floating by. We searched the area for a while, but even though we saw a lot of life, we didn't see any whales. 

We were searching for our entire trip back. In the strait, we spotted a harbor seal and a leopard shark leaping out of the water. 

Harbor porpoise.

Harbor porpoise.

On this trip we picked up two mylar balloons near a large bait ball just outside Point Bonita. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

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!