farallons

Sightings: 10/13/19

Sightings from Oceanic Society vessel Salty Lady

This trip was for a marine biology case study class I’m taking for my Masters program at the Estuary and Ocean Science Center at SF State. We arrived in Sausalito around sunrise to board the Salty Lady and head out into the Gulf of the Farallones.

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We spotted some harbor porpoises and bird activity in the bay, then stopped by Diablo Cove to check out the harbor seals.

We spotted black oystercatchers on the rocks near Point Diablo, as well as a song sparrow and spotted sandpiper. There were also murres, pelicans, terns, cormorants, grebes, and gulls in the area.

We also spotted some more harbor porpoises near the mouth of the strait.

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As we left Diablo Cove, we spotted a spout in the Strait. It was humpback whale Gator, #33 in our catalog and a frequent visitor to the area. We saw a couple of fluke dives from Gator, who was averaging 4 or 5 minutes on each dive.

After spending some time with Gator, we continued on into the Gulf of the Farallones. There was still a lot of bird activity, including parasitic jaegers and large rafts of surf scoters.

When we got out to the shipping lane, we saw some sea lions on one of the buoys. There was a huge Steller sea lion on one side of the buoy and a bunch of California sea lions on the other side. Seeing the two species side by side, the size differences were clearly contrasted.

As we continued out west, we spotted a group of Dunlins headed east.

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Eventually we came to more humpbacks. There were two animals feeding in 225 feet of water, with scattered bait visible on the fish finder. We saw fluke dives and a couple of lunge feeds from these animals.

One of these whales had a distinct propeller scar on its side.

We continued southwest towards the continental shelf, taking advantage of the beautiful weather. On our way out we continued to spot humpbacks, usually feeding by themselves or in groups of two.

There were abandoned crab pots and ships in the area as well.

We were seeing lots of shearwaters in this area, including sooty, pink-footed, flesh-footed, and Buller’s shearwaters.

When we reached the continental shelf, there was a boat fishing for black cod. There were 5 or 6 black footed albatrosses sitting and flying near the fishing boat, hoping to take advantage of the black cod.

There wasn’t much wind, so some of the albatrosses had to take running starts to get aloft.

Near the albatrosses we also spotted a northern fulmar and rhinoceros auklets.

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After leaving the albatrosses, we came across another lunge feeding humpback whale.

We began our trek towards the Farallon Islands along the shelf edge in about 3,000 feet of water. We spotted a mola mola on the way.

As we headed north, we started to see some splashing from a distance. The captain identified the splashes as Dall’s porpoises. They sped through the water, perhaps attempting to bowride our boat. I saw a few animals with calves.

After the porpoises left us, we headed towards the islands. We started off on the western end on the lee side of the island to take a look at the northern fur seal colony. There were also California sea lions and northern elephant seals in the group as well.

I spotted a marbled murrelet in this area as well.

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We continued around Saddle Rock towards the east side of the Southeast Farallon Island, spotted more sea lions, harbor seals, and lots of bird activity.

We stopped in Fisherman’s Bay to look at the California and Steller sea lions playing in the area, and saw lots of pelicans and cormorants nesting on Sugarloaf.

We then headed around the windward side of the islands to complete our circumnavigation.

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After circling the islands, we headed east towards home. After a few miles, the captain announced that the “motherlode” was up ahead. We approached a group of 20-30 feeding humpback whales and hundreds of feeding sea lions and birds.

When we were about 100 yards away, he turned off the engine and we observed the feeding frenzy. The whales and sea lions started to move towards us until there were at least ten whales within feet of the boat.

The whales continued to circle our boat and feed all around us, while rafts of sea lions leapt out of the water. We could hear the whales making different vocalizations, from moaning and groaning sounds, to trumpeting, to the sound of the whales’ blows.

As the feeding frenzy passed by us, we started our engines again and continued east. However, just a few hundred yards in front of us was another group of 20-30 humpbacks feeding with a huge raft of sea lions and large group of birds. We could see rainbows in the spouts as we approached.

We again stopped a couple hundred yards away, this time with the engine on. Again, the whales approached us within a few feet of our boat and we got whale snot sprayed in our faces.

There were tons of sea nettles in the area. We spotted moon jellies as well. We could also see the tiny shimmering scales of the anchovies glittering in the water.

After spending some time with this group, we headed back home. The total trip was around 8.5 hours. It was certainly one of the best trips I’ve ever had out to the Gulf of the Farallones, with our final species list coming to 41 different species of birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

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Sightings Report: October 21, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we headed out to the Farallon Islands. We had relatively good weather with very little wind, although the skies were grey.

We turned north out of the Golden Gate Strait and made our way to Bolinas, where we turned west towards the islands.

When we made the turn, we found a humpback whale. It breached and showed us its fluke.

We decided to continue past the whale to make the best of the good weather. On our way we picked up several balloons.

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When we got to the islands we started in Fisherman’s Bay. There were lots of California and Stellar’s sea lions on the rocks.

We also spotted a couple of peregrine falcons on top of sugarloaf, and a couple of brown boobies farther down the rock.

We then moved towards Mirounga Bay. Diver Ron Elliot and Great White Adventures were both present, searching for Great White sharks. We didn’t hear any shark reports from them, but the cage diving boat reported that a gray whale had swum close to their cage.

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There was another falcon on top of Saddle Rock.

When we turned around and made our way back towards the California coast, we spotted a couple of sunfish close to our boat. One was floating with it’s mouth out of the water.

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The sunfish (also known as mola mola) ended up near our stern, where one of them started breaching! It breached three times in a row.

On our way back towards the shipping lane, we saw several more whales including several breaches. It brought our humpback whale count up to 9-10 animals.

Sightings Report: July 8, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we attempted the Farallon Islands despite a bad weather forecast. It was very windy, although warm and sunny. 

On our way out of the Golden Gate Strait, we turned into Bonita Cove to check out the harbor seals resting on the rocks. A humpback surfaced nearby. 

The humpback moved towards Point Bonita, showing no flukes. It was in 36 feet of water. 

We eventually headed north out of the strait, spotting another humpback fluking outside Point Bonita. We continued north before turning west near Muir Beach.

We made it 8 miles out before finding another humpback. This one was active. It breached several times, slapped its pectoral fins on the water, and did several fluke dives. 

The whale was moving north. The heavy wind made it difficult to track the spout. 

The water was rough and we were not even a third of the way to the islands, so we began a slow journey south. We picked up and examined some bull kelp and saw some porpoises as we headed back towards the shipping lane. We also spotted some common murres with chicks.

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On the shipping lane buoys, we spotted several California sea lions. Near the lane a passenger spotted a huge group of birds with another humpback spouting nearby. 

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Sightings Report: July 7, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

We were headed for the Farallon Islands on this trip. Our weather was good for the first ten miles, but started to get pretty rough once we reached the halfway point. We continued 5 more miles in rough water and found 6 blue whales and one humpback. 

The blues surrounded the boat. We saw fluke dives from a few different individuals. A few came within 50 yards of us. 

A pair of Cassin's auklets were also spotted nearby. 

In the time we spent watching the blue whales, the weather deteriorated significantly, and we decided not to continue the attempt at the islands. 

On our way back, we found two humpbacks 12 miles offshore. The two were breaching and fluking in synchrony. 

We saw one more humpback as we headed back through the Golden Gate Strait to port. 

Sightings Report: June 10, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

There was wind in the forecast as we headed out towards the Farallons. The weather seemed pretty good outside the Golden Gate Strait, so we decided to pass a few humpback whale spouts in favor of beating the wind to the islands. We turned north to Bolinas before turning west towards the islands. 

The weather held until about 10 miles from the islands, when the wind started to pick up. Not long after that we spotted our first blue whale.

The whale surfaced in front of us and then seemed to move north. There were large red splotches on the surface of the water, indicating huge masses of krill.

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The whale was feeding in 180 feet of water. 

We continued on, only to be stopped by a set of three blue whales a couple of miles west. 

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These three blues included a pair who surfaced and spouted together, along with another individual not far away. One of them came within 75 yards of our boat. 

We also spotted a humpback near the boat at this point. 

We decided to continue on with six more miles to the islands. We were spotting spouts to the south, but we headed for the far side of the Farallons. There were lots of sooty shearwaters, common murres, and northern fulmars flying around. 

We made it to the Farallons and started at Mirounga Bay. We spotted some northern fur seals, sea lions, and elephant seals on the islands and in the water near the rocks.

We also spotted a couple of tufted puffins in the air, a rhinocerous auklet floating in the water, and lots of murres, cormorants, gulls, and pigeon guillemots. 

We started our journey back towards land with the wind and the swell at our stern. After going a few miles, we started seeing spouts again. 

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We kept the bow pointed east and did not approach any of the whales, planning to parallel them without doubling back. At least ten blue whales spouted around us, several within 150 yards of us. At least ten more humpbacks were in the area as well.

At one point three humpbacks surfaced near our starboard bow, then came closer and closer before finally coming within 5 yards of the boat. 

The humpbacks dove underneath us and reappeared at our stern with several more blue whales. 

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We also spotted a black footed albatross in this area. 

We continued on towards land, seeing spouts 300-500 yards away for the next 5-7 miles. 

We spotted several California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys on the way in, and saw a single spout in the Golden Gate Strait before we ducked back under the Golden Gate Bridge and headed back to Pier 39.