california sea lion

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: May 12, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

This short trip started at 6pm. It was windy, cold, and foggy, but we were optimistic as we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge. On our way out we spotted some sea lions and harbor porpoise. 

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We saw some large splashes way past the bridge. It was a tail slapping humpback in the middle of the strait.

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We spotted another humpback near the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, with two more spouts in the distance near Diablo Cove and the other way off near Point Bonita. 

The whales were diving so we saw a few flukes. For the most part, all of the whales stayed in roughly the same spot for the whole trip. 

Some harbor seals also popped up while we were watching whales in the strait. A large container ship passed by us.

Sightings Report: May 2, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

We started off the day in the same place we found the whales the previous morning. Sure enough, we found humpback whales in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait near Point Bonita. 

Initially I saw one spout, but soon I was seeing four spouts. A few more minutes passed and suddenly I was counting nine spouts from Point Bonita back in to the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A powerful tide pulled us in, and we experienced large swell. We saw very few flukes from the whales. Two of them were the same pair we had been seeing all week - Gator and Topspot. They continued to surface near us. 

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One whale surfaced within 100 yards of us. This whale breached once, then fluked a couple of times. It was spouting once every 1-2 minutes. 

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We saw lots of harbor seals and California sea lions in the strait as well. One of them had caught a fish and had large groups of birds overhead. 

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On our way in, we spotted a spout by Yerba Buena Island. We moved slowly towards our dock. Suddenly a gray whale surfaced about 100 yards away from our boat, then disappeared. The whale continued travelling west. 

11am: 

The wind picked up for the next trip. We found 3 of the same whales we had been watching earlier near Diablo Cove. 

A few huge container ships passed by. We kept a conservative distance so that the whales and the ships both had plenty of room to maneuver around each other. 

There were huge numbers of birds, harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. 

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We followed the whales at a distance as they slowly moved west. 

Sightings Report: April 18, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

As we headed out into San Francisco Bay, we heard reports of a whale by the Golden Gate Bridge. We moved towards the Golden Gate Strait, looking for any signs of a spout. On our way we spotted a California sea lion. 

A sea lion flips on its back.

A sea lion flips on its back.

I spotted the whale 500 yards behind us, close to St. Francis Yacht Club. We slowly approached, noting the heart shaped blow.

A gray whale's back.

A gray whale's back.

We saw another spout closer to Fort Mason, suggesting there were two gray whales in the area. 

We floated in neutral near the yacht club. We saw the whale spouting close to the shore in only 27 feet of water. There were big plumes of mud coming out from behind the whales, indicating feeding.

At one point a whale came within 50 yards, circling the boat. 

We watched the two whales for a while as the wind began to pick up. By the end of the tour the spouts were being blown away very quickly. 

Sightings Report: March 29, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

On our first trip of the day we saw lots of harbor seals near the Golden Gate Bridge. It was high tide, so they were likely out looking for food. We also spotted some California sea lions and harbor porpoises. 

As we headed outside the bridge, we spotted a few gray whales near Mile Rock. They were easily identifiable by their heart-shaped spout. 

The back of a gray whale.

The back of a gray whale.

The water was flat and calm. Large groups of birds rested on the surface. 

We saw  a few fluke dives from the whale, who seemed to be staying in one spot. In between sightings we stopped to pick up a plastic water bottle.

11am: 

The weather for our 11am trip was still flat and sunny. We again saw harbor seals by the bridge, as well as some California sea lions. 

We spotted a spout by Mile Rock and slowly headed towards it. As we got closer to the end of the strait, the spout was seen again back behind us. After 8-10 minutes, we saw it surface again near Mile Rock. 

It was a gray whale, and we saw a few fluke dives. At one point the whale surfaced 50 yards from our starboard side. 

A gray whale with Point Bonita in the background.

A gray whale with Point Bonita in the background.

Near the end of the trip, a tug, barge, and two container ships passed by us. 

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2pm: 

On our third trip of the day we headed out to where we last saw the whales. When there was no sign of them, we headed across the strait to Point Bonita, then went north along the protected coastline. Some California sea lions rested on the shipping lane buoy. 

Near Rodeo beach we picked up a large piece of styrofoam floating in a large group of surf scoters. 

We turned around and headed back towards the bridge, spotting harbor seals and harbor porpoises but no whales. 

Sightings Report: March 28, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

We started off strong on my first 2.5 hour tour of the year with harbor seal, harbor porpoise and California sea lion sightings in the bay and the strait.

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We headed out past Point Bonita and started North up the coast, where the waters were relatively calm. We didn't get far before I spotted a spout to the west. 

Harbor seal

Harbor seal

It turned out there were two humpbacks in this area. They were somewhat elusive, making shallow dives in only 37 feet of water. One of them had a lot of marks on its skin, making me wonder if perhaps it was the calf with the skin condition sighted several times last season. 

We saw lots of shallow dives where the whale did not show its fluke.

We saw lots of shallow dives where the whale did not show its fluke.

As we turned back and headed towards the bridge, we spotted a gray whale near Point Bonita. This one spouted a few times and disappeared. 

Just after we saw the spout, a huge container ship passed by us. 

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11am: 

On our way out we again saw harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. Near Diablo Cove we found a Gray whale. 

A gray whale spouts from afar. 

A gray whale spouts from afar. 

While floating and waiting for the whale to spout, we picked up a pillow and a lifejacket from the water. We also got a good look at several harbor seals and sea lions. 

Harbor seal. San Francisco Bay is home to several reddish harbor seals, likely because of traces of iron or selenium in the water. 

Harbor seal. San Francisco Bay is home to several reddish harbor seals, likely because of traces of iron or selenium in the water. 

We headed out to Point Bonita and north, hugging the coast. A large group of California sea lions were diving and splashing near the shipping lane buoy. 

We also spotted a large group of surf scoters and pelagic cormorants. 

When we didn't see a whale, we turned around and headed back to Diablo Cove, this time getting up close to the rocks to take a look at the resting harbor seals. 

We saw a few more spouts outside the Golden Gate Bridge and one near Baker Beach. 

A Canada goose at Diablo Cove.

A Canada goose at Diablo Cove.

2pm: 

On our way out of the bay we picked up a large leather purse. The water color had changed significantly and the wind had picked up.

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There was a huge group of cormorants outside the Golden Gate Bridge, with harbor porpoises surfacing nearby.

The swell in the Golden Gate Strait was larger and the period was short. We saw the spout in the middle of the strait, in line with Mile Rock. 

We saw the whale surface a few times before a large container ship started to come in. We let them know about the presence of the whale. We then moved far to the other side of the channel to be well out of the way of the ship and avoid putting extra pressure on the whale.

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As we waited for one ship to pass, another started heading out. 

We spotted lots of harbor seals and a few California sea lions in the water. After watching the whale for a while, we headed to Diablo Cove and got a look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks at low tide. 

Sightings Report: March 10, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours Vessel Kitty Kat

We pushed off from the dock on a calm but very foggy morning. We could barely see the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed underneath, but still managed to spot some harbor porpoises, harbor seals and California sea lions. 

We headed north up the coast, then turned west to make our way toward the Farallon Islands. We had been heading west for a few minutes when a passenger spotted a spout about a quarter of a mile away. 

We began to slowly approach the whales when one surfaced about 100 yards away from our port bow. It was a humpback!

We put the boat in neutral and floated with the whale, who swam underneath us and came up on our other side. When it surfaced again, I realized there were actually two whales swimming together - potentially a mother and calf. 3-4 more humpbacks spouted off in the distance. 

We had found the whales in 91 feet of water, with a huge 75 foot wall of anchovies underneath us. Their short dives and the way they stayed in the same general location let us know they were probably feeding. 

After a few minutes, we left these whales to continue on to the islands. With very little wind or swell to hinder us we made great time and approached the eerie, fog-shrouded islands. They were invisible to us until we were within a half mile of them because of the visibility. 

The islands were coated with common murre breeding pairs who created a screaming cacophony easily heard from the boat. More murres, gulls, and cormorants swarmed in the waters around the islands. 

Some California and Steller sea lions rested on the rocks or bobbed in the water, craning their necks to look around. 

We made our way from Fisherman's Bay around the lee side of the island, noting more birds and sea lions near Mirounga Bay and Saddle Rock. 

We slowly turned back towards Fisherman's Bay and floated there for a while, observing the chaotic bird activity through the mist. After a few minutes, we slowly started to head back towards shore. 

Right as we began to move, we spotted a spout. It was two gray whales about 150 yards from our starboard side. As the second whale fluked, I noticed that it was missing its fluke, instead showing a large pink scar. I was unable to get a picture, but reported the sighting of this whale to the biologists on the islands, since I knew that several scientists were on the lookout for a whale of this description. 

A gray whale appearing out of the mist. 

A gray whale appearing out of the mist. 

We headed back towards land with very limited visibility and a few short showers. We could see rain following behind us on the radar. At one point a sanderling circled our boat for several minutes. 

Sanderling, usually a shorebird.

Sanderling, usually a shorebird.

As we approached the Golden Gate Strait, we again spotted large groups of harbor porpoises. The fog had cleared up and we finally got a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge and clouds rolling over the Marin headlands. 

Clouds over Marin.

Clouds over Marin.

This sighting will be recorded and reported to Golden Gate Cetacean Research. It was the first large grouping of humpbacks we have seen this year. 

The Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

Sightings Report: February 24, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we attempted to reach the Farallon Islands. We started heading north up the California coast, passing California sea lions jostling for a spot on the buoys. 

However, when we turned west and were no longer protected by Point Reyes, we were hit by very strong winds. Our instruments read thirty knots, which was forecasted to increase over the course of the day. The captain decided it was safest to attempt the islands another day. 

We slowly headed back towards the bay, hoping to spot whales on the way back. We spotted several species of birds, including common murres, western grebes, and sooty shearwaters. 

Western Grebes.

Western Grebes.

On our way back we stopped by Diablo Cove to watch the harbor seals resting on the rocks. We also spotted several harbor porpoises. We are hoping for better weather next weekend!

Sightings Report: October 14, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallon Islands trip: 

We headed west towards the Farallon Islands in moderate swell and wind, both from the northwest. We found one humpback on our way out feeding under a huge group of gulls, common murres, and sooty shearwaters. 

Huge group of birds hovering over a bait ball.

Huge group of birds hovering over a bait ball.

We saw a few lunge feeds from the whale, but few fluke dives. It was feeding in 136 feet of water.

Humpback whale.

Humpback whale.

After a few minutes, we pressed on towards the islands. The captain spotted the blue-footed booby resting on Sugarloaf, along with many juvenile and adult brown pelicans. There were lots of California sea lions in the water and on the rocks, along with a few fur seals. 

The water was full of moon jellies as we progressed towards Mirounga Bay. The shark diving boat was present, but reported no sharks so far that day. 

We decided to use the good weather to continue on towards the continental shelf, passing the west side of the islands. Boats fishing for rockfish started to appear between the swells. 

I spotted a spout 500 yards away, but then discovered something closer to us: a pod of Risso's dolphins moving towards the Farallons. They were slapping their tails, jumping out of the water, and moving quickly southeast. 

Ahead of us were several spouts. Two humpbacks swam side by side a few hundred yards from us, and a few other groups of 2-3 humpbacks were visible.

As we continued we saw two blue whales and more humpbacks spouting ahead. 

The light-gray back of a blue whale.

The light-gray back of a blue whale.

When we finally had to turn around and head back towards the islands, we had another sighting of the Risso's dolphins before heading east. We watched the humpbacks from our stern until they were out of sight. 

3pm: 

On our 3:00 trip, we found a single humpback whale northwest of the shipping lane. It was showing its fluke and did a few lunge feeds.

A few birds were present hovering over the whale. It was feeding in 76 feet of water. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We also spotted harbor porpoises on our way out. 

All sightings west of the Farallons 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 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!