balloon

Sightings Report: October 8, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

The forecast called for winds between 25-35 knots and swells 11-17 feet, so we decided to check the conditions before going far offshore. On our way out to the open ocean, we picked up two mylar balloons. 

Outside the Golden Gate Strait, there was a large swell but little wind, allowing us to continue to the end of the shipping lane. We saw California sea lions resting on a buoy as a large container ship passed by. We thought we saw a spout, but we had to exit the shipping lane so the ship could pass. When it was gone, we were unable to relocate the spout. 

We made a large circle, attempting to reacquire the whale. We were eventually notified by the Pilot Vessel that humpback whales were one mile northeast of buoys 1 and 2. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We found 3 whales in that area, feeding around the distinct tide line. We saw a few fluke dives from the whales, but the large swell made viewing difficult. We were able to observe a few tail slaps as well. 

The aftermath of a tail slap. A bit of the fluke is visible through the spray.

The aftermath of a tail slap. A bit of the fluke is visible through the spray.

The rest of the day was devoted to Fleet Week's Blue Angels show. 

Whale sightings 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!

Sightings Report: October 2, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The beginning of October marked a switch to a single 5 hour trip every day. This gave us lots of time to find and enjoy the whales. 

We found humpbacks in the same place we'd been seeing them all week. It was 12-13 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, close to the pilot boat at the end of the shipping lane. Three whales surfaced near the pilot boat, who alerted us to their presence. 

We saw many fluke dives from these whales, who were being trailed by dozens of common murres and brown pelicans. 

We were able to float with these whales for about 45 minutes. Then we slowly made our way southeast. We hadn't reached the shipping lane yet when we found two more humpbacks spouting together - potentially a mother and calf. 

We ducked into Diablo Cove to enjoy at least a dozen harbor seals and picked up a balloon floating nearby.

Inside the bay we spotted harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. 

Black oystercatcher (right) and a juvenile cormorant.

Black oystercatcher (right) and a juvenile cormorant.

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!

Sightings Report: September 13, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

As we headed out into the Golden Gate Strait, a thick wet mist was there to greet us. We saw lots of harbor porpoises on our way out, but I didn't expect to see any whales. That meant it was a surprise when one of our passengers reported a spout while we were passing Bonita Cove. 

Point Bonita.

Point Bonita.

Sure enough, there was a humpback whale in the middle of the strait. We hadn't seen them that close to the bay in over a week. A nearby gull had an anchovy in its beak, confirming the reason for their presence.

We watched the whale spout a few times from several hundred yards away, then started to slowly move west. As we did, another humpback surfaced 200 yards ahead of us. We waited for it to pass us as it headed east towards the other whale. Later we would get reports that another whale was about to join them. We also noted a parasitic jaeger harassing a group of elegant terns before we left the area. 

We headed straight out west through the shipping lane. The water was unusually calm, and as we progressed farther the mist dissipated a little. We saw lots of California sea lions resting on the shipping lane bouys, and a few leaping out of the water near our boat. 

We also spotted a group of 5+ sooty shearwaters, a flesh-footed shearwater, 2 Cassin's auklets, and some red-necked phalaropes in flight in the 10 miles before we reached the islands. 

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

Once we reached the Farallons, we spotted 2 tufted puffins in the water near Sugarloaf just outside of Fisherman's Bay.

Tufted Puffin.

Tufted Puffin.

There were lots of common murres, gulls, and all three species of cormorants (pelagic, Brandt's, and double-crested). 

California and Steller's sea lions rested on the rocky shore. As we made our way around the islands toward Saddle Rock, we sighted some elephant seals resting in Garbage Gulch. Near Mirounga Bay there were Northern fur seals resting on the rocks. 

We also noted several species of invertebrates, including a salp, moon jellies, box jellies, and pelagic tunicates. 

The forecast warned that the wind was going to pick up dramatically in the afternoon, so we started to head back towards shore, hoping to find whales on the way in. The passengers reported a whale near shipping lane buoys 1/2, but the whale was not resighted. While we were waiting we picked up a balloon that was floating in the water. 

California sea lions on the buoy.

California sea lions on the buoy.

By the time we got back to Point Bonita, there was thick fog and a light rain. We found two humpbacks in the strait. One was moving from the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge towards Baker Beach, and the other was closer to Diablo Cove.

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We saw a few fluke dives and some harbor porpoises before we headed in for the day. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic. 

20170913_140526.jpg

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!

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!

 

Sightings Report: September 7, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

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. 

11am: 

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. 

Cormorants.

Cormorants.

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.

2pm: 

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 info.whalegirl@gmail.com! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!

 

Sightings Report: August 28, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

2pm: 

As we left port we passed over a distinct tide line where the water dramatically changed color between the ocean water and the bay water. Frothed zooplankton (sea foam) gathered along the line. 

Birds hovering over the spot where a whale is about to surface. 

Birds hovering over the spot where a whale is about to surface. 

We found 3-4 humpback whales outside the Golden Gate Bridge near Point Bonita. There was a lot of bird activity over each whale as they did fluke dives on all sides of us. 

Two of the whales, potentially a mother and calf, swam east into the Golden Gate Strait. We followed slowly and at a distance.

I spotted a mylar balloon in the water - the fourth one in two days. We did a man overboard drill to retrieve it. 

Balloon retrieved from water. 

Balloon retrieved from water. 

As we headed back in, we saw a humpback surface right in front of a large container ship underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. We called Vessel Traffic and made sure they had a visual on the whale before proceeding back to port. 

As we left, the fog was starting to gather around the bridge. 

5pm: 

As we left the dock a sea lion swam near the pilings. It was foggy, windy, and cold, but the tide was still coming in even as we left, so we expected to find the whales farther east than we had left them. The top of the tide was 5:15pm. 

We found the humpback under the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge feeding in over 300 feet of water.

We floated in neutral and it surfaced within 100 yards of us as tons of traffic sped around the area, including a multitude of kite surfers. One kite surfer came extremely close to a surfacing whale. 

We saw some fluke dives and some long dives where no fluke was shown. The dives lasted close to five minutes. We noticed lots of harbor porpoise on our way in. 

Elegant terns flying by. 

Elegant terns flying by. 

All sightings 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!

Sightings Report: August 27, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

3pm: 

On this trip we found an elusive humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate Bridge in the Golden Gate Strait. It was on the north side near Diablo Cove in roughly 118 feet of water. 

Humpback with spout blowing away behind it.

Humpback with spout blowing away behind it.

We watched several fluke dives from a distance, usually several minutes apart. But our patience paid off and a few minutes later we were witnessing breach after breach, 350 yards away from the boat. 

The whale breached a total of 7 times. They were done rapidly in two sets of 3-4.

We also had some harbor seals come near our boat. During the trip we retrieved two mylar balloons floating in the water near the wildlife. 

Crew Jayke retrieving a balloon from the water. Photo by Jody Payne.

Crew Jayke retrieving a balloon from the water. Photo by Jody Payne.

The sea conditions were smooth as the tide continued to move east. We slowly left the area where we had seen the whale. We saw one more spout underneath the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed to the other side.

On our way in we noticed a lot of harbor porpoise and pelican activity. A sea lion was lying on the dock as we disembarked. 

6pm: 

We headed out on our second trip with a change in the tide pulling the water in the opposite direction of the swell, creating some rougher conditions than our previous trip. 

Some interesting shadows on the fog on the way out. Photo by Jody Payne.

Some interesting shadows on the fog on the way out. Photo by Jody Payne.

As we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, the captain spotted a breach one thousand yards away near Point Bonita. We headed in that direction, seeing more spouts pop up all the time. 

Humpback surfacing near a group of pelicans. 

Humpback surfacing near a group of pelicans. 

The swell was large outside of the Golden Gate Strait, and we proceeded slowly both for the safety of the whales and for our own comfort. We watched spouts and flukes 200 yards away from our boat as we turned our stern into the swell and floated in neutral. The three humpbacks near us each had a cloud of birds circling above them. 

After floating for a while, all three humpbacks did fluke dives within 100 yards of us.

One came just 50 feet away from the port side and did a single loud tail slap. 

We saw another mylar balloon and attempted to retrieve it, but we lost sight of it in the swell and were not successful. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

The light on this trip was beautiful and we enjoyed the sunset as we slowly headed back to shore surrounded by lots of bird activity. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic. 

My mom came on both of these trips and contributed many of the photographs. It was so much fun to have her come out on two really different but incredibly fun trips. Love you, mama!

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!