Sightings Report: May 4, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


The bay was packed with boats as we headed around Angel Island, through Raccoon Strait, and towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The Sailing Grand Prix race was happening in the central bay.

When we didn’t find a whale in the bay, we headed offshore. The weather was beautiful. It wasn’t long before we started seeing spouts. We were just to the north of the shipping lane.

We had three humpback whales on this trip, including Gator, a whale we see regularly.

Two of the humpbacks stayed close together, while the other fed a little ways away from them.

We were able to smell the humpback breath from over half a mile away.


On this trip we headed straight offshore to the place where we last saw the whales. The tide had changed and the wind picked up a bit, so it took a little longer on this trip than on the first one.

The whales were in the same spot. We saw the same three humpbacks close to us, with more spouts off on the horizon.

This time we were able to identify both Gator and Akula.

The whales were definitely feeding. We saw one lunge feed and lots of quick dives. They showed their flukes on about 2/3 of their deeper dives.


We also spotted a group of sooty shearwaters in this area.

Sightings Report: April 30, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we found a gray whale on the east side of Angel Island near Raccoon Strait.

We floated in neutral for most of the trip while the gray whale stayed in the area. A few times it came close to our boat.

We also saw the B.A.P. Union, a Peruvian naval training tall ship as she left San Francisco Bay on her way to Vancouver.


On this trip we first headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge, looking out for humpbacks. When we didn’t see anything we headed towards Sausalito, then through Raccoon Strait to the east side of Angel Island. After waiting for a few minutes we heard reports of a gray whale in Richardson Bay, so we headed back there and were able to watch the whale for about 30 minutes.

It was a gray whale. The whale stuck close to shore in an area protected from the wind and current.



On our final trip we spotted a whale soon after leaving the dock. It was a gray whale spending time near Fort Mason.

The whale appeared to be feeding and came up regularly. It was in very shallow water, sometimes 25 feet or less.

The presence of the whale in this area was important because there was a lot of activity from the Sailing Grand Prix practices.

Sightings Report: October 24, 2018

8 AM Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Golden Gate Strait. A crew member spotted a whale near Mile Rock. It was a single humpback.

The humpback was feeding in an area with a lot of tidal action. We saw many lunge feeds as the whale fed on anchovies. We floated in the vicinity of the whale for a while before the whale began using the tide to come towards us. We saw at least one lunge feed within 50 yards of our boat.

As the tide came in, the whale moved towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We did not see fluke dives from the animal, but we were able to identify it based on the scars and markings on its body.

1 PM Sighting from Golden Gate Bridge

We only had one trip on the boat on this day, so after the tour a few members of Golden Gate Cetacean Research met on the Golden Gate Bridge to see if we could spot the whale.

The humpback had used the tide to move far into the bay. We could see it breaching and spouting near Alcatraz. At one point a large cruise ship passed by the whale.

While we waited for the tide to change, we photographed harbor seals and porpoises underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

We spotted several mother-calf pairs among the harbor porpoises.

We also witnessed porpoises chasing fish and at least one mating attempt.

We lost sight of the whale for a while. Then I finally spotted it near Fort Point, only a few hundred yards from the bridge. We managed to get a few photos before the whale swam under the bridge and came out on the other side.

The whale breached in the Golden Gate Strait and continued to move out with the tide.

Special Sighting: Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari

Sighting on June 18, 2018 from vessel Manute'a

As a naturalist, I'm always looking for ethical wildlife experiences when I travel. My first "special sighting" was in my hometown of Dana Point, California with Dana Wharf. Since then I've posted about seeing orcas in the San Juan Islands, spotting fur seals in Tasmania, and observing elephant seals and a beached blue whale along the California coastline.

Last weekend I found myself again in my beloved hometown, the place that inspired my love of the ocean. I decided to go whale watching. 

Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is a well known local business. Anybody who spends time down at the harbor knows about "Dolphin Dave." As a local, I was stoked to be heading out for the first time on their catamaran sailboat Manute'a. 

The crew was led by Captain Dan and naturalist Craig. We headed north out of the harbor, noting some California sea lions on a buoy.  We found our first group of dolphins near the Dana Point Headlands. 

The crew estimated there were about a hundred long-beaked common dolphins in the group. The dolphins exhibited feeding behaviors, surging through the water to chase the fish. Hungry birds including brown pelicans and gulls hovered and dove near the group. There were calves present in the group as well.

The dolphins led us north, bow riding and wake riding. When we reached the Laguna Beach city limit, we left the dolphins and turned west towards the edge of the continental shelf, which in southern California is only a few miles offshore. 

We had only gone a few miles when we found another group of two hundred dolphins. The crew identified them as short-beaked common dolphins. 

This group also had calves, but were exhibiting more social behaviors.

We saw lots of aerial exhibitions, exposed bellies, and calves porpoising with adults. 

We turned back south along the shelf, searching for a whale. We spotted lots of sooty shearwaters clumsily taking flight or resting on the surface of the water. 

After progressing south for a while, the crew spotted a spout half a mile to the southwest, followed by an enormous fluke. We approached the general area where the whale had taken its dive, then waited for it to resurface. About ten minutes later, it surfaced just over a hundred yards away from the boat. 

It was a blue whale. It spouted five times, slowly circling the vessel. 

On the fifth spout it did a fluke dive. We were perfectly positioned to capture the ventral view.

According to the company's Instagram account, this whale was identified as Kinko, a female who was seen for the first time in four years. 

There was also another group of long-beaked common dolphins in the area, but they did not approach our vessel. There was one other boat in the area. 

The captain and crew had a lot of interesting information to share. I'm a Dana Point native who works on a whale watching boat and I learned interesting new facts that I'd never heard before. The operation was professional and respectful of the wildlife. At the end, we even got to taste Mrs. Captain Dave's famous brownies. 

You can find out more about Captain Dave at www.dolphinsafari.com. I highly reccomend following their beautiful Instagram page @captdaveswhalewatching

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: July 24, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


Breach! Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

Breach! Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

We headed out into the bay with a little bit of wind, and our port side got some spray as we moved towards the bridge. Once past the bridge we spotted spouts and large splashes by Mile Rock and slowly made our way there. From 500 yards away we saw a humpback breach. We proceeded with caution, only to see another breach when 200 yards away.  We put the boat in neutral and floated over the tide line. The line was a dramatic divide between the choppy green bay water and the calmer, dark gray ocean water; once we passed over the line, it was much more comfortable! The two types of water don't mix very much because of differences in salinity (and therefore density). 

We waited a few minutes before seeing another breach. This one was close enough to see that the whale was quite small. After the breach, the humpback slapped the water with its pectoral fins for a few seconds. We saw this whale do the same behaviors again and again: a breach followed by 30-60 seconds of fin slapping. Once and a while a larger whale would surface nearby, often very close to the smaller whale. I suspect they were a mother and calf. We saw the mother's fluke a few times, but she was much less active than the calf. 

A pectoral fin poised to slap, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the Background. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

A pectoral fin poised to slap, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the Background. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

We had 3 humpbacks by Mile Rock, and noticed more spouts on the horizon. We started to slowly head back to the pier. But on our way back in, a different humpback breached 200 yards from our starboard side! This humpback also seemed small and was also with a larger, calmer adult. This calf breached 3-4 times and did a few quick pectoral fin slaps. The other calf could still be seen breaching on the horizon near Mile Rock. 


Humpback fluke. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

Humpback fluke. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

The total count for this trip was five humpbacks within 300 yards of the Kitty Kat, with 2-3 more spouts sighted within 1000 yards. We also saw harbor porpoise, California sea lions, and common murres with their chicks. 




When we left the dock for our last trip of the day, the wind and the fog had both picked up. We had a spout just a few hundred yards outside the bridge near Baker Beach, and we sat and watched that humpback for a few minutes as it headed east towards the south tower of the bridge. I saw more spouts out near Mile Rock, so we headed out there. 

We found three humpbacks in between Mile Rock and Point Bonita, all exhibiting feeding behaviors. Each of the three had a cloud of birds swarming around it every time it surfaced, making it easy to pinpoint where they would pop up next. We floated in neutral 200 yards away, and none of those whales chose to approach us.

There was a lot of bird activity on this trip, including Caspian terns, pelicans, cormorants, gulls, common murres with chicks, as well as a pigeon guillemot. We also spotted a juvenile black crowned night heron hanging out on the dock as we were leaving for the day. 

Juvenile black-crowned night heron at Pier 39. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Juvenile black-crowned night heron at Pier 39. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

***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 10, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


We embarked on our journey from sunny Pier 39 and quickly found ourselves in a thick mist. The outline of the Golden Gate Bridge was just barely visible as we headed towards the Golden Gate Strait. Once past the bridge, I sighted a spout near Point Bonita. We carefully moved into position and watched as three whales near us spouted and fluked, with 3-4 more sighted across the strait by Mile Rock. We noticed one whale 500 yards away tail slapping. The fishy stink of the whale breath stuck to the fog - we could smell it even from whales 100+ yards away!

Eventually we were forced to move across the strait to get out of the way of a large container ship. Several spouts were seen very close to the ship as it passed by. After it passed, there was lull in activity, broken briefly by some harbor porpoises heading across our bow.

As we started heading in, I noticed some frenzied bird activity and roiling surface water. We began to see anchovies leaping out of the water. We were moving at around 3 knots when a humpback surfaced on our starboard bow 75 yards from the boat. We immediately put the boat in neutral and waited for the whale to circle around the back of the boat and over to the port side, where it joined two other feeding whales. We were just to the west of the bridge's south tower, with no other boats in sight. The fog was starting to evaporate and the Golden Gate Bridge slowly emerged from the mist as birds swarmed around the whales. A few harbor seals swam by to take a look the frenzy, and anchovies seemed to be flying everywhere as they attempted futile escapes. The sonar reading underneath the boat looked like it was packed with food!

Once the whales were all 100 yards away, we continued our slow crawl towards the pier. It was a good thing we were being careful, because once inside the bay we had two more whales surface within 150 yards of the boat. Needless to say, it took us much longer than usual to get back to the dock, but we were grateful that the boat traffic was light despite a few large ships.


By the time we headed back out for our 11am tour, most of the fog had burned off. I had barely finished introducing myself to the passengers when I heard cries of "breach!" from the port side. Sure enough, we had a humpback whale heading down either side of our boat as we floated between them. Both of them stayed around 200 yards away from us, but we saw lots of flukes from them. 

I wanted to check out what was happening at the bridge, so we slowly headed for the south tower. I noted a large increase in traffic had occurred while we had been at the pier; there were now several ferries, fishing boats, sailboats, and bay cruises on the water, all heading out under the bridge. We stopped just to the east of south tower and watched at least 5-6 humpbacks feeding as birds circled hungrily. They were spread out across the strait, yet still boats sped under the bridge straight through large concentrations of spouts. 

We headed to the north side of the strait to see if we could slowly cruise under the bridge, but spotted more spouts on that side, including one by Cavallo Point. We decided not to pass through the group of whales, and instead opted for the more respectful option of drifting in neutral. I estimate that we saw at least 9-10 humpbacks total; we also spotted harbor seals and harbor porpoise. 

I recorded both sightings on the Whale Alert app, and the Coast Guard was notified of the locations of 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!***