humpback

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: 10/6/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day, we spotted a humpback whale near Mile Rock in 167 feet of water.

Over the course of the trip, we followed the whale as it slowly moved east with the tide.

When this whale fluke dove, I was able to identify this whale as #72 in our catalog. 72 is also known as “Crazy Ivan.”

We also spotted other wildlife on this trip, including harbor seals.

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We also had lots of bird activity in the area.

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12pm:

On our second trip we found two humpback whales in the same spot. One of the whales was #72 “Crazy Ivan,” the same whale from the morning trip. We were seeing fluke dives from these animals.

For the first portion of the trip, the whales stayed a few hundred yards from our boat. However, after watching them for a while, one of the humpbacks decided to come close to our boat.

We saw a couple of roll feeds close to the vessel.

There was lots of bird activity in the area, including feeding Caspian terns.

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3pm:

On the final trip we found two whales feeding in the same spot, near Mile Rock.

They moved in large circles close to the rock as they fed. There were large groups of cormorants and other feeding birds nearby.

As the trip went on, we started to spot a third spout outside the Golden Gate Strait. At one point, one of the whales approached within 100 yards of the boat.

We saw some fluke dives from the whales on this trip, so we will be able to identify which individuals we saw.

We also spotted other wildlife on this trip, including harbor seals.

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There was also a large amount of bird and porpoise activity, including parasitic jaegers chasing terns.

Sightings: 9/15/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we were surprised with good visibility and calm sea conditions. We found two humpback whales feeding near the middle of the shipping lane.

The closer whale was moving around quite a bit, seemingly looking for food. Eventually it found a good spot and we started to see birds hovering over the whale, grabbing at anchovies.

The whale was in only 50 feet of water. We stayed with the animal for about 40 minutes.

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We also saw California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy.

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12pm:

On our second trip we found two more humpback whales much closer to shore, although still near the middle of the shipping lane.

These whales moved around quite a bit, but we did see hovering birds, indicating some feeding activity. We identified Gator from the flukes of one whale. Gator has been seen in this area many times.

3pm:

On our final trip we found two humpback whales in almost the same location. We were seeing coordinated dives from these two individuals, who seemed to be moving in large circles.

We saw a fluke dive from one of the animals. I did not recognize the fluke, but it was definitely a different whale than the previous trip.

We also had some roll feeding from one of the whales on this trip. Birds hovering over the whales indicated feeding activity as well.

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Sightings: 9/13/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On the first trip of the day we headed out west in sunny, beautiful conditions. As we were heading out, a crew member spotted a tall dorsal fin back behind us. We slowed down and were able to relocate a minke whale.

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The minke surfaced several times near us, usually taking a few breaths and then going down for a deeper dive. There was also a huge group of sooty shearwaters in the area.

After watching the minke for a few minutes, we headed farther west and found two humpback whales near the entrance to the shipping lane.

The whales were displaying a variety of feeding behaviors, including lunge feeding, roll feeding, and fluke dives.

There was another whale farther out in the shipping lane as well. We saw a barge pass by us. Several small fishing boats were also working in the area.

The whales slowly moved east over the course of the trip.

We saw lots of bird activity in the area, including several brown pelicans.

A baby harbor seal popped up right in front of us at one point!

2pm:

On our second trip, we found whales again near the beginning of the shipping lane. There were three feeding whales within a thousand yards of us; all three were within the shipping lane.

The shipping lane was extremely busy, with several inbound and outbound ships passing by us over the course of the trip.

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Over the course of the trip, the three whales came together near the south side of the shipping lane.

The whales were feeding close by to the ships. We saw lunge feeding, roll feeding, and some coordinated behaviors. One whale rolled onto its side to feed over and over again for the entire trip.

We saw one fluke dive over the course of this trip.

We kept a distance from the whales while the large ships were present. Several of the ships slowed down as they passed by the whales.

Sightings: 9/8/19

Sighting from Tamalpais Charters vessel The Tamalpais for the Marine Mammal Center

9am:

On this special trip for the Marine Mammal Center, we headed west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We spotted a few harbor porpoises near Cavallo Spire and some harbor seals close to the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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As we headed out through the strait, we noticed lots of bird activity. There were a variety of types of birds present, including elegant terns, parasitic jaegers, brown pelicans, common murres, and Brandt’s cormorants.

Right around the demarcation line we spotted the first spout. It was a humpback whale. One of the first behaviors we saw was a body roll, where we got a good look at the pectoral fin of the humpback.

The whale was surfacing every few minutes and arching its back to dive, but we weren’t seeing any flukes from the animal at first.

The whale was definitely feeding. Birds hovered all around the spots where it surfaced, attempting to get the leftover anchovies.

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The animal slowly moved west past the demarcation line. As we followed, we spotted a second spout.

We saw a shallow fluke dive from this animal which will hopefully help us identify the individual.

The wind was increasing and the tide was beginning to ebb, so we eventually started heading back in to the bay. On our way back to Tiburon, we stopped by Pier 39 to look at the sea lions.

There were also lots of birds in the area.

We also took a look at some of the whale bones on Angel Island, where the Marine Mammal Center performs their necropsies.

Sightings: 9/2/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On our first trip of the day we found one humpback whale near Mile Rock, near the end of the Golden Gate Strait. The whale was in 64 feet of water.

There was a lot of bird activity and bait in the area, but we did not observe any feeding behaviors or fluke dives.

The whale moved in large circles and slowly moved east with the incoming tide.

2pm:

On our next trip we found the same whale near Mile Rock again. It was close to the shoreline at Land’s End.

We saw one fluke dive from this animal, which we tentatively identified as Black October.

We saw a lot of feeding activity from this animal, including lunge feeding and roll feeding. There were birds hovering over the whale as well.

There were lots of boats in the area, including two large ships. One of the ships was careful to maneuver around the whale. An ebbing tide and northwestern wind created rough conditions in the Golden Gate Strait, making it harder to approach the whale.

We spent about 40 minutes with this animal.

Sightings: 8/31/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we traveled down to Pacifica and found two humpback whales lunge feeding in 28 feet of water.

One of the whales surfaced for a brief moment before disappearing. The dorsal fin may have been that of Gator, a familiar visitor to our waters.

The other whale stuck around and fed in the area. We saw lunge feeding, anchovies boiling at the surface, and lots of bird activity.

At one point the whale approached us within 100 yards.

We spent about 30 minutes with the whale before returning to port.

12pm:

On our next trip, we found one whale feeding in 85 feet of water. The humpback was originally found between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Over the course of the trip, the whale moved in between Alcatraz and Angel Island, then towards the Bay Bridge.

We saw lunge feeding and roll feeding from this animal. There were birds hovering over the spot where the whale was feeding.

There was tons of bait in the area, as well as tons of boats approaching the whales. There were inboard/outboard motor boats, sailboats, and large ships in the area.

We spent over an hour with this animal as it moved around the bay.

3pm:

On our final trip of the day we headed back out to the Golden Gate Strait, where we found two whales in about 117 feet of water. One of the whales was moving in and out of the strait, while the other stayed farther out.

We saw some fluke dives from the closer individual, who we identified in our catalog as #62. This whale had new scars on its fluke since we last saw it in 2018.

The whale was feeding, with birds and anchovies present in the same area. There were a few sailboats nearby.

We spent about an hour with this animal.

Sightings: 8/30/19

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On our first trip of the day we headed down to Pacifica, where we found four humpback whales feeding close to shore.

The whales were lunge feeding in less than 30 feet of water.

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We saw other evidence of feeding as well, including the presence of anchovies on the fish finder and a huge group of birds close to where the whales were. Three of the whales converged on the spot near the birds. They were lunge feeding probably in less than 20 feet of water.

After watching these animals for about 40 minutes, we started to head back to port. At that point we received a report that there was a humpback whale in San Francisco Bay.

As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, we spotted the whale just ahead of us. We stayed with it for about 10 minutes, during which time we saw a fluke dive.

We were able to identify this whale as Black October, a whale named by our very own Captain Joe!

There were ships and sailboats passing by and a little bit of bait on the fish finder.

2pm:

On our next trip we headed back out to the Golden Gate Strait and found two humpbacks. First we watched the one near Baker Beach, which we identified again as Black October. We saw one breach from this animal, followed by some fluke diving. The whale appeared to be feeding.

The other whale was across the strait, but moved towards us over the course of the trip. We saw a fluke dive from this animal as well.

We spent about 45 minutes with these animals, who were feeding in 130 feet of water and making their way west over the course of the trip.

We saw some shipping activity as well as some sail and powerboats.

Sightings: 8/23/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

On this trip we headed out into foggy conditions and found one humpback whale near the shipping lane. We were able to identify this whale as Akula.

We didn’t see any flukes from Akula, but we were able to identify her from her dorsal fin.

Akula was moving south over the course of the trip. She kept her distance from the boat.

We also saw some sea lions on the shipping lane buoys.

Sightings: 8/22/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we found one humpback out past the pilot station feeding in 94 feet of water. It had been extremely foggy all the way until we were 12 miles offshore, when it finally started to open up.

The whale was traveling, so each time we spotted the whale it had moved farther west.

However, we did get to see two full breaches where the whale’s whole body came out of the water. These breaches were followed by a fluke dive which will allow us to identify this animal.

We also saw large groups of sooty shearwaters on our way in.

2pm:
On our next trip we were several miles west of the shipping lane when we found two humpback whales.

Although these whales took a long time to find, we were treated with a close approach where the whales came within 20 yards of our boat before fluke diving.

These whales were in 108 feet of water.