harbor porpoise

Sightings Report: April 26, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we expected wind all day. We headed towards the east side of Angel Island, where we found a gray whale.

We floated for a while while the gray whale continued to surface in the same area. It looked like an adult.

Eventually the whale appeared to move towards Tiburon.

We also saw harbor porpoises in this area.

As we approached Pier 39, we saw a raft of sea lions swimming away from the Pier.

11am:

We found the same gray whale on this trip that we’d seen on the 8am. The whale was still hanging out east of Angel Island.

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We saw the whale surface a few times as the passenger ferries passed by us.

2pm:

On our final trip of the day, we were just leaving the dock when I saw a spout behind us close to Fisherman’s Wharf. We followed the gray whale as it headed towards the sailing practice being held by the Sailing Grand Prix.

The whale was spouting just once at a time and coming up every five minutes. It was windy, so the spouts were blown down quickly.

There was a lot of traffic, including the Sailing GP practice, container ships, passenger ferries, and day sailors.

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We continued around Alcatraz towards Angel Island, looking for the whale we’d seen earlier. We were unable to locate it before we headed back to the dock.

Sightings Report: December 3, 2018

Sightings from the Golden Gate Bridge

I arrived at the bridge a few minutes after high tide, around 9:00 AM. It was a cold, clear morning, with the Farallon islands barely visible on the horizon.

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I was able to spot seabirds and a few porpoises under the bridge.

I observed one foraging attempt.

I also saw one mother traveling with her calf.

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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: Skye Cruises

Sighting from Skye Cruises vessel Radiant Queen

On a grey and misty August morning, my family and I boarded the Radiant Queen, a fishing vessel used for wildlife tours by the guides at Skye Cruises. Skye Cruises are located in Uig on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It’s a remote place, evidenced by the fact that there were just a few other groups on board the boat with us.

We took off at a leisurely pace, hugging the coast and enjoying the glassy calm waters. We passed the sheer cliffs and local ruins.

Our guides, Tom and Duncan, had lots of information about the local history and environment. They were passionate about educating us about the negative effects of local fish farms. Two new salmon farms were approved off of the Isle of Skye in spring of 2018. Locals worry that the farms will spread disease and increase chemical “medicines” in wild fish stocks. Read more about this issue here.

As we headed around the corner, we spotted our first white tailed eagle soaring above the cliffs.

We continued along the coastline before turning towards a small grouping of islands. On one set of rocks dozens of harbor seals.

We learned from our guides that although they are common at home, the harbor seals are actually rarer in Scotland than the grey seals. They promised we would see the grey seals later.

As we headed farther out towards another small island, we saw lots of bird activity on the water. There were razorbills, guillemots, terns, and northern gannets all around the area.

The captain also spotted some harbor porpoises in the area.

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We noticed a little more splashing on the horizon and I saw some dolphins start to leap out of the water. They were common dolphins, most likely in the area for feeding. We saw some leaps out of the water and some mothers travelling with calves.

Several northern gannets flew close to the boat.

By this time we were close to a small island where Princess Diana liked to go to escape the pressures of royal life. The island’s other claim to fame it’s a nesting spot for puffins in the summer. Unfortunately, we were just one day too late to spot any. We did get a good sighting of an Arctic skua resting on a rock.

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We also saw two more golden eagles. One was a juvenile and one was an adult.

Juvenile eagle.

Juvenile eagle.

We spotted a lot of jellies in the water of two species: moon jellies and red lion jellies, who really lived up to their name. Some of the red lion jellies were the size of serving platters.

On our way back we stopped by another rock which was the haulout of a few grey seals.

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After this we turned around and made our way back to port, enjoying the crew’s stories and the tea and snacks on board!

I sincerely appreciated the beautiful Radiant Queen, her knowledgeable and kind crew, and their passion for conservation. Check them out at Skye Cruises if you’re looking for unique trips in Scotland!

Sightings Report: May 15, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

The weather was very calm and clear. From the strait, we could see all the way to the Farallon Islands. 

Harbor porpoises were active all over the Golden Gate Strait. We also spotted some sea lions and harbor seals. 

We found two humpback whales southwest of Mile Rock with a huge group of cormorants.

The whales were diving in 100 feet of water, 33 of which was anchovies. 

We saw one lunge feed from these whales. They seemed to slowly be heading west. 

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11am: 

On our next trip we found the whales slightly father west than we'd left them. They were close to the shipping lane. There were two inbound ships and one outbound. 

The whales seemed to continue to move west on this trip. 

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We also spotted sea lions, seals, and porpoises. 

Sightings Report: May 14, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

We found two bottlenose dolphins just past the Golden Gate Bridge. One was slightly larger than the other. They were bow riding and spinning underneath us. 

We continued out through the straight and past the demarcation line. Just past the line we found two humpbacks. 

The humpbacks stayed about 200 yards away and were slowly moving in. 

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The weather was cold and foggy, but the waters were calm. 

11am: 

The weather was the same as we headed out on our second trip of the day. Outside the bridge we saw several harbor porpoises going in all directions. We saw some California sea lions as well. 

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We continued on to Point Bonita, where we saw two spouts. 

We followed along the tide line for a bit, but were unable to relocate the spouts. 

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Suddenly I saw a breach to the south. We headed that way and saw a humpback slapping the water with its pectoral fin, followed by a fluke dive.

The whale disappeared for another fifteen minutes, then reappeared 1000 yards offshore. We were able to get one last look before heading in. 

Sightings Report: April 12, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

This trip had beautiful warm weather. We quickly spotted a spout southeast of Angel Island and another spout further towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We identified them as gray whales. 

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We moved to the west side of Angel Island, where we watched one of the grays spout without fluking. At one point the gray came within 25 yards of the boat and swam in a circle from our starboard bow to the port stern. 

We also had a good sighting of harbor porpoises. There was a group of 5-6 individuals swimming slowly near Angel Island. 

We also spotted a variety of seabirds.

Pigeon Guillemot.

Pigeon Guillemot.

2pm:

By the time we headed out on our next trip the wind had picked up significantly. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge, where it was very rough. We turned around and let the wind and swell push us back towards Angel Island. 

We went slowly through Raccoon Straits, hoping to relocate the whales from the last trip. We went all the way around the island and had turned north when I saw a spout off our stern. 

Spout with Fort Mason in the background.

Spout with Fort Mason in the background.

We approached and found two gray whales near Alcatraz moving slowly towards Angel Island. There were no flukes and the wind blew spouts away quickly, but we got good views of their bodies. 

Sightings Report: March 28, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

We started off strong on my first 2.5 hour tour of the year with harbor seal, harbor porpoise and California sea lion sightings in the bay and the strait.

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We headed out past Point Bonita and started North up the coast, where the waters were relatively calm. We didn't get far before I spotted a spout to the west. 

Harbor seal

Harbor seal

It turned out there were two humpbacks in this area. They were somewhat elusive, making shallow dives in only 37 feet of water. One of them had a lot of marks on its skin, making me wonder if perhaps it was the calf with the skin condition sighted several times last season. 

We saw lots of shallow dives where the whale did not show its fluke.

We saw lots of shallow dives where the whale did not show its fluke.

As we turned back and headed towards the bridge, we spotted a gray whale near Point Bonita. This one spouted a few times and disappeared. 

Just after we saw the spout, a huge container ship passed by us. 

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11am: 

On our way out we again saw harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. Near Diablo Cove we found a Gray whale. 

A gray whale spouts from afar. 

A gray whale spouts from afar. 

While floating and waiting for the whale to spout, we picked up a pillow and a lifejacket from the water. We also got a good look at several harbor seals and sea lions. 

Harbor seal. San Francisco Bay is home to several reddish harbor seals, likely because of traces of iron or selenium in the water. 

Harbor seal. San Francisco Bay is home to several reddish harbor seals, likely because of traces of iron or selenium in the water. 

We headed out to Point Bonita and north, hugging the coast. A large group of California sea lions were diving and splashing near the shipping lane buoy. 

We also spotted a large group of surf scoters and pelagic cormorants. 

When we didn't see a whale, we turned around and headed back to Diablo Cove, this time getting up close to the rocks to take a look at the resting harbor seals. 

We saw a few more spouts outside the Golden Gate Bridge and one near Baker Beach. 

A Canada goose at Diablo Cove.

A Canada goose at Diablo Cove.

2pm: 

On our way out of the bay we picked up a large leather purse. The water color had changed significantly and the wind had picked up.

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There was a huge group of cormorants outside the Golden Gate Bridge, with harbor porpoises surfacing nearby.

The swell in the Golden Gate Strait was larger and the period was short. We saw the spout in the middle of the strait, in line with Mile Rock. 

We saw the whale surface a few times before a large container ship started to come in. We let them know about the presence of the whale. We then moved far to the other side of the channel to be well out of the way of the ship and avoid putting extra pressure on the whale.

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As we waited for one ship to pass, another started heading out. 

We spotted lots of harbor seals and a few California sea lions in the water. After watching the whale for a while, we headed to Diablo Cove and got a look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks at low tide. 

Sightings Report: September 16, 2017

9am and 12pm sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days; 3pm sighting from SFWT vessel Kitty Kat.

9am: 

On our first trip of the day we quickly spotted a single whale underneath the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a humpback feeding on a 30-50 foot wall of anchovies in roughly 120 feet of water. 

The whale was 250 yards away, and we set course to position ourselves parallel to it, moving at 3 knots. To our surprise, it surfaced very close to our bow. We put the boat in neutral and floated near the bridge for the remainder of the trip. It was a good example of why it is so important to go slow around whales.

It was high tide, and dozens of harbor seals came up to check us out.

There was a swimming race happening underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and the whales came quite close to the swimmers. 

This whale wasn't throwing flukes, probably because the anchovies were already close to the surface. 

11am: 

When we returned there was even more traffic than when we had left.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

Nonetheless, we found a whale in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait just outside the bridge. This humpback was showing its fluke, and I noticed that it had a different dorsal fin than the whale on the first trip, indicating that it was a different whale. 

The whale moved inside the bay near the south tower, then back into the strait. There were a few ships passing by and a lot of sailboats, motor boats, and smaller vessels. We were able to float in neutral just outside the bridge, where we saw a few close fluke dives. 

There was also some harbor porpoise activity on this trip.

3pm: 

I switched vessels and headed out on the next trip on the Kitty Kat. We saw a flare go off near the mouth of the Golden Gate Strait, so we went over to investigate. We found a small fishing boat in distress. Their motor wasn't working and they were caught in an outgoing tide. We called the Coast Guard and waited with the vessel until they arrived, keeping our eyes on a spout that was a few hundred yards west. 

When the occupants of the small boat were safe, we slowly approached the whale, which was just outside of Point Bonita. We positioned ourselves above the whale with the swell to our stern. 

The humpback surfaced a few times. It was 200 yards away when we saw the first full breach. I wasn't quick enough to capture that one on camera, but luckily it did a second full breach right afterward!

After that, the whale did 3-4 smaller breaches, then floated on its side slapping its pectoral fin for almost a full minute. 

As we floated in neutral, the whale then did two fluke dives 50 yards from our boat. It started heading east. We allowed it to get 100 yards away, then headed east as well. We kept a slow speed while the whale was nearby and waited until it was at least half a mile away before we came up to speed.

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

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!