continental shelf

Sightings Report: May 13, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallons Trip: 

We had just started on our Farallon Islands trip when we found a humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw a fluke dive and decided to continue past it to increase our chances of making it to the islands. 

There was a southern wind to 10 knots forecasted, but we had pretty much no wind as we headed west. We were able to make good time and covered twenty miles quickly. At one point the captain reported a leatherback turtle, but we were unable to locate it. We did see several large Pacific Sea Nettles. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

Eight miles from the islands we started to see spouts. There was a group of five humpbacks swimming very close together, surfacing in synchrony. 

Humpback whales. 

Humpback whales. 

There were a couple of huge spouts from blue whales. At one point, a fin whale surfaced 75 yards from us. There was also a large group of common murres in this area, along with other bird species. 

Blue whale. 

Blue whale. 

One of the humpbacks came 50 yards from our boat. It seemed to be on the small side. Most of these whales were not doing fluke dives. 

We also saw a black-footed albatross gliding ahead of us and land on the water. 

We also saw a sea lion floating in the water in this area. We picked up a balloon as well. 

We continued on towards the islands. Observers at the lighthouse informed us that there were orcas near the continental shelf, so we went past the islands and continued five miles past them in search of the orcas. We saw no spouts of any kind, but there were a lot of birds in the area. 

A couple more albatrosses were flying near us. We were in 2500 feet of water, with lots of krill. I was surprised that there were absolutely no spouts. 

We slowly made our way back to the islands, coming around to Mirounga Bay and working our way east. The islands were full of sea lions, murres, cormorants and gulls. 

We saw several tufted puffins, both in the air and floating on the water. 

Eventually we started to make our way back towards the Golden Gate. On our way back we had several whale sightings from a distance. 

3pm: 

We headed out for our final trip of the day. Passengers spotted a spout underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It took a while to spout again, but when it did we were able to confirm that it was a gray whale. 

There was a huge amount of ship traffic, both inbound and outbound. 

We observed some harbor seals and harbor porpoises in this spot as well. 

Eventually we decided to continue out and find humpbacks. We found three out past Mile Rock, including some familiar flukes. Two of them were staying pretty close together. 

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The whales were near a big group of cormorants. 

Near the end of our observation period, a humpback surfaced 75 yards off our port bow and swam to our starboard stern. 

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!