ca sea lion

Sightings Report: May 1, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we found a gray whale near Richardson Bay. It surfaced roughly every seven minutes.

Over the course of the trip the whale slowly moved towards Tiburon. At a few points it came close to the shoreline and was diving in very shallow water.

As we headed back to the dock, we spotted one dive sequence from a humpback whale, including the fluke. The whale was in the central bay, but we didn’t see it again as we left the area. Soon after, a large oil tanker passed through the area.

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11am:

While we were at the dock, researchers at Golden Gate Cetacean Research were looking at a humpback whale off of Cavallo Point. When headed out on our next trip we went straight to the whale they were observing.

It was a humpback whale feeding on anchovies.

We saw several fluke dives from this animal. A few times it came within 100 yards of our boat.

Over the course of the trip, the whale slowly moved towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was consistent with the outgoing tide, which was likely causing the fish to move west.

We saw lots of harbor seals and California sea lions on this trip as well.

Several of the sea lions were hunting fish underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

2pm:

On our last trip of the day we went out into the Golden Gate Strait in search of the humpback. We relocated the animal in the middle of the strait.

At first we waited west of the animal to see if it was heading out. When it stayed in one spot for a while, we slowly approached.

The whale appeared to be feeding - we had huge bait balls showing on the fish finder. It was coming up at irregular intervals. A few times it lifted its tail high for a rapid deep dive.

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Sightings Report: May 1, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

On our first trip, we went around Angel Island and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was a large group of cormorants and gulls in the Golden Gate Strait. 

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We started towards Diablo Cove, the incoming tide causing some rough water. Then I spotted a spout 500 yards southwest of Diablo. 

There were two humpbacks in the middle of the strait. As we slowly approached, we saw another whale close to Mile Rock. 

We stuck with the two swimming together. They were slowly heading east. 

One of the whales, later identified as Gator, was arching its back on every dive, making its spiky knuckles extra visible. Gator's companion, Topspot, did not do this. They occasionally would dive in synchrony. 

On our way back to port, we saw California sea lions feeding on a fish surrounded by a big cloud of birds. 

11am: 

On the next trip we headed back out to where we'd left the whales. We saw tons of harbor porpoises in the central bay surfing the waves created by the strong incoming tide. 

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We also spotted a few harbor seals as we approached the bridge. As we got closer, we spotted the humpback spouts. It was the same two whales as the previous trip. 

The two whales were headed east towards Angel Island. We paused at the bridge to search for other whales in the strait, but eventually decided to head back towards the three humpback whales in the bay.

We saw one spouting by Point Blunt and the other two closer to Alcatraz. 

As we floated in the central bay, we saw a sea lion catch and kill a striped bass while hungry birds hovered overhead. 

2pm: 

On the 2pm trip we found the same three humpback whales feeding near Cavallo Point. They were slowly making their way back out to the bridge. 

Large clouds of birds hovered above them. The group of cormorants and gulls had moved inward to rest near Cavallo Point with the whales. 

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We saw the wind picking up, making it more difficult to spot the spouts. We saw harbor porpoises, sea lions, and harbor seals as we floated near the bridge. 

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. 

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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 9, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

9am: 

We found the humpbacks in the middle of the shipping lane, near buoys 3/4. There were two humpbacks diving and feeding in 40 feet of water. 

There was some bird activity near the whales, as well as some shipping activity. We spotted a sooty shearwater. There was significant swell, but no wind. 

Humpback with distinctive dorsal fin.

Humpback with distinctive dorsal fin.

One whale approached within 100 yards of us. We saw very few fluke dives. We also spotted a mola mola, or sunfish, feeding on a jellyfish. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

California sea lions were spotted on the shipping lane buoys. One more humpback was spotted near the junction buoy on our way back in. 

California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys 3 and 4.

California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys 3 and 4.

We also saw a parasitic jaeger harassing a group of elegant terns. All whale sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Parasitic jaeger with elegant terns.

Parasitic jaeger with elegant terns.

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 21, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm: 

We found our humpbacks out in the shipping lane, where a mother and calf were feeding together. We saw fluke dives from both and I noted that it was the same pair of whales we had been seeing for the past few days. 

The whale's blowhole and dorsal fin.

The whale's blowhole and dorsal fin.

The calf floated on its side with one pectoral fin and one of the lobes of its fluke sticking up in the air. 

The calf floating on its side.

The calf floating on its side.

A large container ship came in the shipping lane while we were observing the whales. A few times the calf came within 100 yards of us while diving. 

A common murre chick with its father.

A common murre chick with its father.

We had beautiful weather and floated in neutral in 60 feet of water to watch these whales feed. On our way back in we had harbor porpoises and harbor seals. Near Alcatraz we saw a California sea lion with a halibut in its mouth being mobbed by a swarm of western gulls. 

Brown pelican in flight.

Brown pelican in flight.

5pm:

We headed out to the same spot we had found the whales on the last trip and found a single humpback there. As we were waiting for it to resurface, I spotted a breach on the other side of the shipping lane. We decided to head to that spot. 

A humpback fluke with an interesting shape.

A humpback fluke with an interesting shape.

Across the shipping lane at least 7 humpbacks were feeding in groups of 2-3. A few calves were present. I noted in particular one group of two adults and one calf feeding together and surfacing in synchrony. 

The whales were feeding in 84 feet of water and many fishing boats were working within one mile of our spot. We saw several more spouts on the horizon, indicating that there were likely at least 10-12 whales in the general area. 

Each of the groups of whales had a huge cloud of birds diving over them. The bird activity was mostly comprised of brown pelicans and western gulls. 

Birds and spouts.

Birds and spouts.

We saw two lunge feeds, which was very exciting for the birds. One whale with a gnarled fluke turned on its side, showing us one pectoral fin and half of its fluke. 

Humpback pectoral fin.

Humpback pectoral fin.

As we left the area, I spotted one more breach on the horizon. 

On this trip we also saw California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy and some harbor porpoises with their calves. 

Sea lions rest on the buoy in the shipping lane.

Sea lions rest on the buoy in the shipping lane.

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic and NOAA using the Whale Alert app. 

***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: July 29, 2017

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.

Common murre father with chick. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Common murre father with chick. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

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. 

Common murre with krill. 

Common murre with krill. 

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. 

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

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.

Sea lions getting comfy. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Sea lions getting comfy. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

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. 

Blue footed booby. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Blue footed booby. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Pigeon guillemot taking off. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Pigeon guillemot taking off. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Red throated phallarope losing its breeding plumage. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Red throated phallarope losing its breeding plumage. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

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. 

Full sightings list. 

Full sightings list. 

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 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: July 26, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

We started off the day with glassy seas and a bit of fog. We headed towards Muir Beach to see if the whales would repeat the same route as the previous day, and on our way out we spotted many active harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and California sea lions in the Golden Gate Strait.

But it turned out we didn't need to go all the way to Muir Beach, because there were four humpbacks feeding just off of Point Bonita in only 50 feet of water. The tide line was visible with the different colored bay and ocean water, and some sea foam had formed along the line. 

We saw several fluke dives, and also noticed a great deal of bird activity right above the whales, suggesting they were pushing the fish up to the surface. I also noted more diving pelicans than usual. 

On our way in, we spotted another humpback near the Golden Gate Bridge, but didn't stay with it for long. 

11am: 

As we set out on our second trip of the day, we heard reports on the radio of whales by Baker Beach and Diablo Cove. We headed out into the strait, but had no spouts in the reported areas. 

A foamy tide line separates the bay and ocean water. 

A foamy tide line separates the bay and ocean water. 

We found one humpback outside of Mile Rock near the Cliff House. The tide line was much more dramatic than on the previous trip, and the ocean side was much more choppy and green with phytoplankton. We also looked at our sonar readings and found that the bay water showed no food, but the ocean side showed anchovies down to about 90 feet. The whale, who had a distinctive rounded fluke, worked this line the entire time. We also spotted 3-4 more spouts on the horizon. 

On our way back in we saw a California sea lion snapping up a king salmon, with several western gulls lingering above, hoping to steal a bite. 

These sightings were reported to the Coast Guard and NOAA on the Whale Alert app. 

***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: July 23, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

3pm:

We headed out into the bay as the fog slowly started to creep in. On our way out to the bridge we spotted a sea lion with salmon and many birds trying to steal the leftovers, as well as many harbor porpoises. 

When we made it out to Mile Rock, we found feeding 5-6 humpbacks spouting and fluking. Right as a large container ship approached, one individual began tail slapping and continued for 30-40 seconds, the sound echoing off of the cliffs. 

There was an immense amount of bird activity, and we saw a few groups of 15-20 brown pelicans flying west in formation. 

6pm:

By the time we headed out for our 6pm tour, the fog had set on the water, reducing visibility to just 200 yards. This made it much more challenging to find whales, since the spout is almost the same color as the fog. We slowly headed out to the spot where the whales were last sighted and luckily found three just beyond Mile Rock. They were fluking and spouting, but stayed at least 100 yards away from where we floated. 

This trip was extremely cold - I could even see my breath at one point! I enjoyed the challenging conditions, though, since it made it even more exciting once we found the whales. 

***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: July 21, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

We started off with a beautiful glassy sea this morning and encountered 4-5 humpbacks feeding underneath the bridge. I was surprised to see them so far in, since often they stay farther out until the tide comes in later in the morning. We observed many spouts and flukes, and as we floated in neutral two different whales came within 100 feet of us, both moving slowly alongside us as they spouted and finally did fluke dives. We stayed in one spot and let them swim around us; as other boats sped by, we contacted them to warn them to slow down for the safety of the whales. 

Humpback whale fluke with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. You can see the white tips on this fluke - this picture is perfect for our catalog. Thanks to Diana Moule for sending in her photo.

Humpback whale fluke with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. You can see the white tips on this fluke - this picture is perfect for our catalog. Thanks to Diana Moule for sending in her photo.

One whale between the north tower of the bridge and the Coast Guard station breached twice about five minutes apart, and another whale 100 yards away did a single pectoral fin slap immediately afterwards. 

Bird vocalizations were particularly noticeable on the water today, and I spotted my first common murres with chicks for the first time this season. One murre was holding an anchovy in its beak and vocalizing loudly as two fluffy chicks paddled toward it with desperate cries. 

We also had sightings of CA sea lions, harbor seals, and harbor porpoises on this trip. 

11am: 

The great weather continued on our next trip, and right away we spotted two humpback whales inside the bay. They didn't seem to stay long, though, and soon they headed out into the strait, where we were counting up to six spouts at a timeWe slowly followed them out at a distance of about 300 yards. There were many other animals close by to distract us, including a sea lion chowing down on a king salmon, escorted by a flock of Western gulls. There were also harbor porpoises and harbor seals nearby, and anchovies leaped out of the water. 

Photo of the Kitty Kat and a lobtailing humpback taken from land by Bill Keener of Golden Gate Cetacean Research.

Photo of the Kitty Kat and a lobtailing humpback taken from land by Bill Keener of Golden Gate Cetacean Research.

We watched the whales spout and fluke from a distance for some time, then slowly moved towards the southern side of the strait to get out of the way of a large container ship. We were still more than 200 yards away from the whales when we put the boat back in neutral. Then, right as the container ship passed by us, two whales surfaced on either side of us within 100 yards. One started at our bow with a couple of pectoral fin slaps, then headed down the port side. The other started slapping its tail repeatedly and continued for several minutes, taking short breaks in between 30+ seconds of slaps. In the video below, you can hear how the tail slaps reverberate loudly even in air; they're probably even louder underwater!

When it was time to leave, we called out for any sightings of whales before we moved. At the last moment, a whale surfaced at our stern just within 100 yards. We watched it spout and slowly move away from us before moving slowly away from the area. 

On this trip I noticed lots of murres with chicks and several with anchovies in their beaks.

Sightings board for our 11am trip.

Sightings board for our 11am trip.

All sightings were reported to the Coast Guard and vessel traffic was alerted. 

***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!***