fog

Sightings Report: July 17, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On our first trip of the day we had beautiful sea conditions and excellent visibility with very little wind. We headed out past the shipping lane, where we found 5 humpback whales feeding.

The whales were in about 82 feet of water. 4 of them stayed within a few yards of each other for most of the time we observed them.

One of the whales had a propeller scar across its back. We identified her as the famous “Prop Mama.” She’s an older female who has had several calves, one of whom was killed by orcas a few years ago in Monterey. She is a repeat visitor to this area.

We saw lunge feeds from these animals as well as lots of fluke dives. We were also able to smell whale breath several times.

We also saw one whale roll on its side and slap its pectoral fin on the water multiple times. There were also a few tail slaps.

Near the end of the trip, three of the whales stuck together while one headed off in the direction of some small fishing boats.

We saw birds, porpoises, and sea nettles in the area as well. We were able to spend about 45 minutes with these animals.

2pm:

On our next trip we headed out through the shipping lane, again experiencing excellent conditions. However, near the end of the shipping lane we hit a huge bank of fog with less than a quarter mile of visibility.

We moved slowly through the area as we started to see huge bait balls of anchovies.

Even though the fog was dense, we found a humpback whale.

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We saw a couple of lunge feeds from the animal, as well as some shallow fluke dives. The whale ended up swimming around the boat about 50 yards from us. It was in about 100 feet of water.

A huge school of anchovies passed directly underneath our boat.

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We saw some container ships moving through the fog in this area. When we started our trip home, the dense fog had moved east all the way to San Francisco Bay, meaning that it had crept about 10 miles east while we were watching the whale.

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We also saw some common murres with chicks in this area.

Sightings Report: July 13, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip we found two humpback whales west of the shipping lane. They were traveling and moved a good distance over the amount of time that we watched them.

We spotted several ships nearby. The whales were in 78 feet of water.

We watched the whale for about 20 minutes before returning to port. Birds and anchovies were present in the area as well, including a large group of sooty shearwaters.

12pm:

On our second trip we had not yet reached buoys 7/8 when I spotted a spout to the north of the shipping lane. We went that way and found two humpbacks in the area. They were much closer to shore than where we had been finding them in the past week or so.

We didn’t see any fluke dives, likely because the whales were in only 53 feet of water.

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There were lots of other boats within sight of us, including fishing vessels, the pilot boat, and large ships. We also saw a lot of bird and porpoise activity in the area.

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We stayed with these whales for about 45 minutes.

Sightings Report: July 12, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On this first trip we didn’t have a lot of visibility, although the sea conditions were good. After searching for a while, we finally found a few spouts southwest of the shipping lane, about 14 miles offshore.

The whale was traveling, which made it difficult to locate in the dense fog. There were lots of large ships passing through the lane and the pilot boat was in the distance. The whale was in 124 feet of water.

There wasn’t any bait on the fish finder when we were near the whale, but in other spots we had seen birds carrying anchovies.

On our way back in, we saw three more humpback spouts in the shipping lane with lots of birds around them. We marked the spot to return to it on the next trip.

2pm:

On this trip we headed west through the shipping lane in search of the biological hotspot we had found earlier. We found it slightly southwest of its previous location, but still close to the shipping lane.

In this area we found four humpbacks feeding in only 48 feet of water. We saw tons of bait on the fish finder and lots of birds hovering in the area as well. The whales performed lunge feeds several times.

Big wind waves made viewing somewhat tricky, but we were still able to observe whales coming within 100 yards of the boat. We stayed with these whales for about 30 minutes.

We also spotted a relatively small mola mola (ocean sunfish) in the area.

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Sightings Report: June 12, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

On our first trip we had a thick layer of fog just outside the Golden Gate Strait. We found two humpbacks right at the edge of the fog. 

They showed us a few flukes and seemed to slowly be moving east. 

Eventually they ended up near Baker Beach. We also saw several harbor porpoises and harbor seals. 

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11am: 

On our next trip the whales were not where we had left them. We searched the strait and eventually found them near Point Bonita. 

The whale was travelling, spouting every 5-7 minutes and taking shallow dives. 

On our way in, we spotted a whale surface very close to a container ship. 

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: October 5, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

As we headed out of the bay and into the Golden Gate Strait, we experienced rapidly diminishing visibility due to thick fog. The previous day's trip had found a whale inside San Francisco Bay, so we were on the lookout for a humpback close to shore. There was a lot of bird and harbor porpoise activity in the strait. 

We headed into the fog with good sea conditions but a visibility of 100-400 yards. At one point we spotted a mola mola (ocean sunfish) floating near the water's surface. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

We found one whale between buoys 2 and 4. The fog was thick, so when the humpback did a deeper dive we were unable to reacquire it right away. We did a large circle and relocated the whale in the same spot we had left it. We put the boat in neutral and it approached us to 50 yards before fluking. The humpback's dorsal fin was unusual with a big slice down the middle of it. 

We were unable to reacquire the whale. We looked for it as we headed back the way we came, noting the California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

We ducked into Diablo Cove to take a look at the harbor seals and watch some of the planes practicing for Fleet Week before we headed back to port. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

All 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!

Sightings Report: September 28, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

On the first tour of the day we had very low visibility. A wet, thick fog surrounded the bay; near the bridge we could only see 200-300 yards. There were reports that the fog got worse farther out. 

A fishing boat heading out into the fog.

A fishing boat heading out into the fog.

We headed out to the spot where we had found the whales yesterday. On our way, we spotted harbor porpoises and harbor seals. At 10 miles out, the fog started to clear up and after a few minutes we had found a whale. 

The humpback did three large tail slaps right in front of our boat, followed by a fluke dive. After that we saw a few shallow fluke dives, with lots of bird activity above the whale. 

Humpback whale.

Humpback whale.

The water was flat and calm, but the fog meant that it was very cold. 

11am: 

We headed back to the same spot on our second trip. The visibility had vastly improved, but low clouds still covered the sky outside the bridge. 

Fog waiting by the Golden Gate.

Fog waiting by the Golden Gate.

At the previous spot, we found 7-9 whales feeding in groups of 1-2 surfacing all around our boat. A few of the whales surfaced very close to us. 

There were large clouds of birds over each whale. We saw one side-lunge feed followed by a pectoral slap. We also saw one tail slap. 

On our way in we saw a mother and calf surfacing together. They were a few miles away from the other whales. 

2pm: 

For our last trip of the day we headed once again out to the same spot 12 miles offshore. On our way out, we saw harbor porpoises and California sea lions in the Golden Gate Strait.

5-6 whales were feeding on anchovies 12 miles offshore. There was one pair of whales which we soon discovered was the mother and calf. 

Humpback about to slap its tail.

Humpback about to slap its tail.

The calf tail slapped over and over again. A few other whales also tail slapped. We also saw some lunge feeding on this trip and a lot of bird activity over every whale. 

Tail slap.

Tail slap.

A few container ships passed by in the distance, but none came close to the whales on this trip. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

All 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!

Sightings Report: September 13, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

As we headed out into the Golden Gate Strait, a thick wet mist was there to greet us. We saw lots of harbor porpoises on our way out, but I didn't expect to see any whales. That meant it was a surprise when one of our passengers reported a spout while we were passing Bonita Cove. 

Point Bonita.

Point Bonita.

Sure enough, there was a humpback whale in the middle of the strait. We hadn't seen them that close to the bay in over a week. A nearby gull had an anchovy in its beak, confirming the reason for their presence.

We watched the whale spout a few times from several hundred yards away, then started to slowly move west. As we did, another humpback surfaced 200 yards ahead of us. We waited for it to pass us as it headed east towards the other whale. Later we would get reports that another whale was about to join them. We also noted a parasitic jaeger harassing a group of elegant terns before we left the area. 

We headed straight out west through the shipping lane. The water was unusually calm, and as we progressed farther the mist dissipated a little. We saw lots of California sea lions resting on the shipping lane bouys, and a few leaping out of the water near our boat. 

We also spotted a group of 5+ sooty shearwaters, a flesh-footed shearwater, 2 Cassin's auklets, and some red-necked phalaropes in flight in the 10 miles before we reached the islands. 

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

Once we reached the Farallons, we spotted 2 tufted puffins in the water near Sugarloaf just outside of Fisherman's Bay.

Tufted Puffin.

Tufted Puffin.

There were lots of common murres, gulls, and all three species of cormorants (pelagic, Brandt's, and double-crested). 

California and Steller's sea lions rested on the rocky shore. As we made our way around the islands toward Saddle Rock, we sighted some elephant seals resting in Garbage Gulch. Near Mirounga Bay there were Northern fur seals resting on the rocks. 

We also noted several species of invertebrates, including a salp, moon jellies, box jellies, and pelagic tunicates. 

The forecast warned that the wind was going to pick up dramatically in the afternoon, so we started to head back towards shore, hoping to find whales on the way in. The passengers reported a whale near shipping lane buoys 1/2, but the whale was not resighted. While we were waiting we picked up a balloon that was floating in the water. 

California sea lions on the buoy.

California sea lions on the buoy.

By the time we got back to Point Bonita, there was thick fog and a light rain. We found two humpbacks in the strait. One was moving from the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge towards Baker Beach, and the other was closer to Diablo Cove.

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We saw a few fluke dives and some harbor porpoises before we headed in for the day. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic. 

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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: August 13, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours Vessel Kitty Kat

3pm: 

On my first trip of the day we found whales right under the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge - the same spot as yesterday. In fact, it turned out to be the same humpback whale hunting near the north tower of the bridge. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

The wind was blowing at an estimated 20 knots with stronger gusts. A strong tide pulled us continuously east. We approached the whale slowly, making sure to give plenty of space as a large container ship passed by us. 

The whale was feeding in 120 feet of water packed all the way to the bottom with anchovies. We saw several fluke dives within 50 yards of our boat; we floated in neutral the whole time and never ran more than 3 knots when within 200 yards of the whales. We got a great view of the blowhole and tubercles!

6pm: 

By the time we headed back out at 6pm, there was a thick fog over the bay. We still had about 200 yards of visibility at best - sometimes it was closer to 50 yards. The winds were 20 knots and we threw some spray as we headed out towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 

I had a feeling that the whale would be moving out with the tide towards Diablo Cove, so we decided to slowly move up the north side of the Golden Gate Strait. Within a few minutes I had located a spout 150 yards from us, south of Diablo Cove. 

Humpback fluke in the fog.

Humpback fluke in the fog.

We watched a few spouts followed by a fluke dive, then we slowly moved to the north side of the strait to avoid a large outbound container ship and a tug pulling a barge. We also sighted a lot of aggressive harbor porpoise activity, including many mothers with calves, and a harbor seal. 

After a few sightings we lost the whale, and we headed back to the middle of the strait. There we found not only our whale, but a massive group of swarming sooty shearwaters. The group was twice the size of the previous day's; the birds did not seem to be feeding. There was lots of other bird activity in the area as well. 

All whale sightings were reported to the Coast Guard and to NOAA via the Whale Alert app. 

***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: August 2, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours Vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

We heard reports of whales underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, so we headed there first to see if it was still around. Just before the bridge we noticed a kite surfer separated from his board, and stopped for a few minutes to see if he needed help. Once he was able to get back to his board and get the kite back in the air we continued our search for whales. 

Spout by Mile Rock. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

Spout by Mile Rock. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

No spouts were found under the bridge, but we did see a few by Mile Rock. We headed out and stopped just inside the rock, 200 yards away from where two humpbacks were feeding. We floated in neutral and slowly they got closer to us. We saw several fluke dives within 50 yards of our boat. 

Humpback whale. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

Humpback whale. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

Harbor porpoises, California sea lions, and harbor seals were feeding all around us. Although we had started with beautiful weather, as the trip went on the fog started to settle on the surface of the water, and by the end we had less than 150 yards of visibility. 

Harbor porpoise! They are fast and shy, so it's pretty difficult to get pictures of them. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

Harbor porpoise! They are fast and shy, so it's pretty difficult to get pictures of them. Photo by Kat Nazar. 

We slowly headed back in, spotting one more humpback diving parallel to us just at the edge of our visibility as we made our way down the middle of the Golden Gate Strait.

5pm: 

By the time we were back out for our last trip, there was thick fog sticking to the surface of the water. We again received reports of a whale under the bridge. 

We approached the Golden Gate Bridge slowly and floated in neutral. At times we could just barely make out the shape of the bridge just ahead of us.

The Golden Gate Bridge!

The Golden Gate Bridge!

After several minutes of floating, we decided to make a large circle to attempt to locate the whale. We had just started to slowly move when a humpback whale surfaced 80 yards from us on our port side, right in between our boat and the south tower of the bridge. We put the boat in neutral and the whale came up across our bow, another spout just behind it. Both the whales surfaced once more before doing fluke dives right in front of us. 

We waited ten minutes for them to surface again, but didn't see anything. The current was pushing us hard back into the bay. We decided to do another big circle to attempt to relocate the whale. Just as we were closing the bow, the whale came up in the same spot as before (between us and the south tower). It seemed that both of us had been pushed back by the current. The whale again came across our bow and did a fluke dive, but the other whale was not in sight. 

After the fluke dive, we floated in place, hoping to find them again. Visibility improved somewhat, but we couldn't relocate the two whales. They may have headed out into the Strait as the tide moved out. 

Harbor porpoise were everywhere on this trip, most of them feeding under the bridge. 

All whale sightings were reported to the Coast Guard and to NOAA via the Whale Alert app.

***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!***