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Sightings Report: May 14, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am

We had beautiful weather on this trip. The seas were flat and visibility was excellent - we were able to see the Farallon Islands in the distance. There was a slight southerly wind, so we decided to head south towards Pacifica.

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We found two whales northwest of the Pacifica Pier, several miles offshore. One of the whales was a humpback and the other was a gray whale. It is unusual to see humpbacks and grays traveling so close together.

The two whales appeared to be traveling together. They were surfacing together every 3-5 minutes.

The humpback surfaced and fluked more frequently than the gray whale. A group of birds followed the whales.

After nearly twenty minutes of traveling together the whales had moved half a mile north of where we found them. At this point the humpback started feeding and the gray whale headed east towards the beach.

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We stayed with the humpback for a few more minutes, spotting lots of sea lions and porpoises in the area as well.

Sightings Report: March 22, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat.

On this rainy morning, we headed off towards Richardson Bay, where we’d heard reports of whales. When we were east of Angel Island, crew member Joey spotted a spout to the east. We waited while large ships and ferries passed us, seeing a few distant spouts.

After we waited a while, we heard another report of a whale back near Pier 39. We headed towards our harbor and looked for spouts. When we couldn’t find any, we headed west towards Crissy Field, where we spotted the spouts of two gray whales.

The whales were several hundred yards apart and would often come up one at a time. They generally stayed in the same place for the whole trip.

The whales both were doing fluke dives relatively close to shore. The average depth of the water in the area was estimated to be around 60 feet.

After watching the two gray whales dive near St. Francis Yacht Club and Fort Mason, we headed out towards the Golden Gate Bridge, where we saw porpoises, seals, and sea lions before heading back to port.

Sightings Report: July 24, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

The wind was starting to pick up as we headed west out of the Golden Gate Bridge. We made our way though the shipping lane, where we found humpback whales. We saw several lunge feeds and fluke dives. Lots of birds circled above the feeding animals.

5pm:

The weather deteriorated by the time we made it out at 5pm. We turned north before heading west in large swells. We were still able to find a gray whale, with more spouts out on the horizon. 

Sightings Report: July 2, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

We had beautiful sea conditions as we headed out into the Golden Gate Strait. The sky was foggy, but the ocean was calm and there was very little wind. We quickly found a whale just inside Point Bonita. 

We saw a few fluke dives from the humpback. We also spotted another spout across the Golden Gate Strait and two more out past Point Bonita. I decided to move out towards the two whales to the west. 

We slowly approached the whales, who were feeding along a tide line. It was a mother and calf surfacing in synchrony. We gave them plenty of space, since mother-calf pairs tend to be extra sensitive to human interactions. They were not throwing flukes. 

After watching them for a few minutes, we drifted back towards the Golden Gate Strait, where we relocated some of the whales we had seen earlier. The two of them had moved to the west, while the mother-calf pair started to move east. 

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Visibility was decreasing as we headed back to port surrounded by fog. I spotted the first common murre chicks I have seen this season.

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5pm: 

On our next trip the fog had engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge, but in the strait visibility improved significantly. Some passengers spotted our first whale in the middle of the strait.

We saw one fluke dive from this humpback, who then disappeared. 

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I had my eye on more spouts near Point Bonita, so we headed that way. Near the lighthouse we found two humpbacks. One of them was the individual Akula, easily recognizable by the flat dorsal fin. 

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The other individual started tail slapping repeatedly while birds hovered around it. The tail slapping continued for several minutes. Occasionally the whale would take a break and then start slapping again. 

At one point a gray whale popped up 50 yards in front of us before swimming away to the other side of the strait. 

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We stayed with the active whale for most of the trip. At one point it breached 70 yards from our boat. 

We had at least 6 humpbacks and 1 gray within a half mile of our vessel. A large container ship passed us during the trip.

At the end of the trip as we headed back to port, we saw a whale near Point Bonita breach three times, followed by a whale at Mile Rock tail slapping. 

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I saw lots of murres with fish in their beaks on this trip.

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Sightings Report: June 27, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm: 

On our afternoon trip, we found a gray whale outside of the Golden Gate Strait. We followed it north towards Point Bonita. It was travelling and would reappear far from the previous spouts. We lost the spout for a few minutes before reacquiring the whale near the lighthouse. 

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We saw several harbor porpoises near our boat, along with a large amount of bird activity. 

Five container ships passed us over the course of the trip. 

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5pm:

On our next trip we headed out in hopes of finding a humpback. We went twelve miles west through the shipping lane, noting some traffic.

We went down the south side of the lane, then paused near Mile Rock. At that point our captain noticed a spout near Point Bonita. 

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We approached and found a single humpback. The whale breached twice before diving. 

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It resurfaced slightly farther west and did a large tail slap, followed by another breach. 

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As the whale moved west, we turned around and headed back to port. 

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Sightings Report: April 30, 2018

Sightings Report from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we immediately spotted two gray whales by Point Blunt on Angel Island. We didn't see any flukes from these whales. 

They spouted every 2-3 minutes, taking shallow dives. 

The water was very calm. Many high speed ferries passed us as we floated with the whales. 

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11am: 

We heard reports of humpbacks near the bridge, so we headed that way. We found two humpbacks there. One was near Cavallo Point in Sausalito, while the other was closer to the center span of the bridge. 

These whales were showing their flukes. We were downwind of them, so we got several chances to smell the whale's breath. 

There were tons of harbor seals in the area. We also spotted several species of jellies, including bell medusas, pacific sea nettles, and moon jellies. 

There was a lot of boat traffic, so we made sure to keep vessel traffic updated on the location of the whales. 

2pm: 

On our next trip the wind picked up to about 20 knots. We found the same two humpbacks in roughly the same spot doing the same behavior. 

We saw lots of flukes and spouts as the whales fed. 

We also spotted many harbor seals and California sea lions. 

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There was a good amount of sailboat traffic on this trip as well. 

Sightings Report: April 29, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

High winds were in the forecast as we started to make our way out to the Farallon Islands. The Golden Gate Strait was especially rough due to a powerful incoming tide. 

We had just passed the Golden Gate Bridge when we saw spouts. It was a humpback in the middle of the strait. 

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We were not seeing any flukes from this whale. Another whale spouted out near Point Bonita. We also spotted a few harbor porpoises in the strait. 

We decided to continue on and attempt the islands despite the wind. We turned north towards Bolinas and slowly made our way up the coast, noting a large amount of bird activity and a rainbow off our bow. 

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Eventually we turned west, observing several sea lions resting on a channel marker. The weather started to improve. 

Eight miles from the islands we began to see big spouts. A group of 5 whales surfaced about 200 yards from our boat, spouting in synchrony. Their tall dorsal fin and huge size identified them as fin whales. 

The fins swam all around the area, sticking together for the most part. The swell was big, so we could see them surfacing on top of large waves. 

There were spouts all around us from fin whales and humpbacks, most at least 300-400 yards away. I counted at least 10 animals within 500 yards of us. We slowly continued our trek towards the islands. 

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When we first reached the islands, they were misty and gray. There were tons of common murres, gulls, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants in the air and water. 

We first headed to Mirounga Bay, observing the sea lions on the rocks and some fur seals resting on Saddle Rock. As we floated, we observed more spouts farther out towards the continental shelf. 

We saw a total of 3 tufted puffins, all flying in the air close to the islands. 

We slowly made our way around the island. As we were heading towards Fisherman's Bay, we saw a spout at our stern. We quickly put the boat in neutral and waited. Then a gray whale popped up in a huge group of gulls who had been floating on the surface.

We saw the gray within 50 yards of the boat for a few minutes before it started heading east. Then we continued on to Fisherman's Bay. 

Above Fisherman's Bay we could see thousands of nesting murres on the islands. Three Canada Geese flew by. 

Eventually we turned towards land and started back home. Five miles from the islands we saw more spouts. Initially I saw some more fin whales. Then there was a huge spout and the unmistakable light gray body of a blue whale. More whales spouted in the distance. 

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We went another five miles and found a humpback, who breached twice. We continued past it. 

We saw nothing else until we were almost back to the Golden Gate Strait. There, near Mile Rock, we found two humpbacks. They were potentially a mother and calf.

The smaller whale breached over and over again, slowly moving west. 

The larger whale surfaced a lot less often. Near the end, the smaller one also started slapping its tail and pectoral fins on the water. 

It was a fantastic finale for our trip!  

Sightings Report: April 24, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

It was a foggy and cold morning as we set out across the bay in search of whales. We heard a report of one in the central bay, so we traveled slowly through in hopes of spotting it. With no spouts, we made our way around Angel Island. 

We ended up finding the whale near the immigration station on the east side of Angel Island. 

It was a gray whale. We saw a few flukes, but the whale seemed to be lifting only one side of its fluke out of the water, potentially to roll onto its side during the dive. 

We reported the whale to vessel traffic and the ferries altered their route to give the whale plenty of space. 

11am:

We returned on our second trip to find the whale in the same spot. 

We didn't see any flukes from the whale this time. It was spouting once or twice and then diving for a couple of minutes. This was potentially resting behavior. 

Two large container ships passed by us. The wind slowly began to pick up. 

As we left the whale, it was slowly moving north towards Raccoon Straits. 

2pm: 

By the time we got back out, the wind had picked up significantly. We started off towards the bridge, then doubled back between Angel Island and Alcatraz. We returned to the spot where we'd previously seen the whale, but didn't find it. 

We headed back towards the bridge when we got a report of a whale by St. Francis Yacht Club. We approached slowly. 

On our first sighting, the whale swam within 100 yards of the boat and swam down our starboard side at only about 10 yards away.

Photo by a passenger. If you took this, let me know! I'd love to credit you.

Photo by a passenger. If you took this, let me know! I'd love to credit you.

It was so close the only thing I could photograph was the sea lice around its blowhole!

After that, the whale surfaced farther away, closer to 100-200 yards. 

Sightings Report: April 22, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

We headed out on this trip on a sunny, windy afternoon. We started off towards the Golden Gate Bridge and continued through the Golden Gate Strait towards Mile Rock. There was a lot of bird activity in the strait.

When we made it out to the Pacific Ocean, we made a large circle in hopes of locating a spout. While we were searching, the captain heard a report of whales near Angel Island. 

Windsurfer underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Windsurfer underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

We made our way back towards the Bay and headed for Raccoon Straits. There was a lot of traffic in the strait with sailboats, yachts, and small outboard motors. 

Traffic in Raccoon Straits.

Traffic in Raccoon Straits.

We spotted the first spout close to Angel Island. It was a gray whale with a large white patch near its blowhole. 

As we waited for the whale to surface again, another whale surfaced near the yacht club in Tiburon. We knew immediately this was a different gray whale because the scar pattern on its body was markedly different from the other one. 

We watched both whales continue to spout, keeping a safe distance and modeling best practices for all of the other boats in the area. We reported the whales to vessel traffic as well. 

The whale near Tiburon spouted infrequently. Usually it would spout just once before diving for several minutes. The whale near Angel Island spouted more regularly, taking a few breaths before going down for a deeper dive. 

The whales seemed to be using the current to stay in the same location for the duration of our trip. Several small boats came very close to the whale.

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.