common murre

Sightings Report: July 21, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat.

9am:

On our first trip of the day we had fog relatively high off the water and pretty good sea conditions. We had reports of whales northwest of the shipping lane, so we headed that way.

We found two humpbacks there in 80 feet of water.

We saw some fluke dives from these animals, who stayed close to each other the whole time they were feeding. At one point one of them did a full body roll. They appeared to be pushing the fish in between them.

Over the course of the trip the whales moved over a mile west.

There were fishing boats around us, as well as lots of birds and porpoises. We also saw some more spouts in the distance.

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12pm:

On our next trip we found whales in the same spot. There were still lots of fishing boats in the area. Sea conditions had improved from the morning trip.

We found six humpback whales in this area, all feeding in 84 feet of water. We saw some fluke dives from these animals as well.

Some large ships passed by us while we observed the whales. We stayed with them for about 40 minutes. We also spotted some common murre fathers with their chicks.

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3pm:

By our afternoon trip the conditions were beautiful. It was sunny and glassy calm out in the shipping lane, where we first found one humpback whale close to our boat. Additional spouts were off in the distance.

The first whale spouted 150 yards from us. We stopped the boat, floated in neutral and were surprised to see the whale pop up 10 yards from the boat and fluke dive.

The whale surfaced again farther from the boat, just as a ship was passing.

After that whale was 300 yards away from us, we continued out towards a group of 3-4 humpbacks that were near the pilot boat.

These whales were surfacing in synchrony.

There were lots of birds hovering around them, indicating that they were feeding.

We saw several lunge feeds from these animals. The highlight was a quadruple lunge feed where all four whales came up at once.

We got lots of fluke dives from these animals, but none of them are currently in our catalog.

The whales were slowly moving west. We were able to spend about 45 minutes with them before we had to head back to the dock.

Sightings Report: June 4, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

After a stretch of bad weather, we headed out on Tuesday with sunshine and good visibility. We went west through the shipping lane, spotting a lot of bird activity as well as some California sea lions resting on the buoys.

We made our way out to the pilot boat, who said they’d seen whales the previous day. We slowly made our way east when a passenger saw a spout. (Shoutout to Michael from Philadelphia!)

At first when we approached the whale we were seeing spouts, but no fluke dives.

After a few minutes we saw a couple of lunge feeds. At one point the whale rolled onto its side and showed us one lobe of the fluke. We'll see if that’s enough to identify it!

2pm:

On our second trip we headed back out to the same area of the shipping lane. It took us a while to find a spout, but eventually we found a humpback whale.

This whale was fluking, so right away we were able to tell that it was a different animal from the previous trip. The dorsal fin was also distinct.

After we had been with the whale for 15 minutes, it began to tail slap. We floated in neutral as the whale slapped for several minutes, at one point coming to about 150 yards away.

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.