humpback whale

Sightings: 8/16/19

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On our first trip of the day we headed far out west, past the shipping lane. We ended up about 15 miles offshore. There we found five humpbacks feeding in 150 feet of water. The water color was a dark purple-brown color, suggesting that the whales might have been feeding on krill.

We saw lots of interesting behaviors from these animals, including lots of feeding behavior. We saw lunge feeding, fluke dives, and some coordinated behavior from two of the animals.

The whales were spread out except for two who continually surfaced together.

There were birds hovering over the whales as they fed. We also saw a couple of breaches.

We could see fish in the water during the trip, including a mola mola.

We had excellent conditions. It was sunny with no wind and only a little bit of swell. We stayed with the whales for about half an hour.

2pm:

On our next trip we found two humpbacks feeding a few miles east of their earlier spot in 166 feet of water.

We saw more coordinated activity from these two whales, including a couple of double lunge feeds. We also got fluke dives from these animals.

As we floated in neutral, one of the whales approached within 50 yards of our vessel. It swam around our stern, then rejoined the other whale 150 yards west of us.

When they reunited, one of the whales began breaching. It did full breaches twice, followed by 2-3 chin slaps. Some of the chin slaps were almost like half-breaches.

We spotted some water draining from the whale’s baleen during the chin slaps. Sometimes the whales open their mouths when excited, so it might have been draining out water that got in during the excitement.

The whales in this area were definitely feeding on anchovies. We spotted a few bait balls in the area. We also had lots of shearwaters present - both sooty and pink-footed.

We also saw a huge mola mola on this trip.

Sightings: 8/14/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

For our first trip of the day we headed out west in beautiful conditions. We had good visibility, calm winds, and minor swell.

We passed a few biological hotspots with tons of birds and anchovies, but no whales. We were about 14 miles offshore when a passenger spotted the spout.

We had found a humpback whale. It was travelling relatively big distances every time it surfaced.

We followed the whale northeast for a bit before heading back to the pier. The whale was in 130 feet of water.

A few large ships passed by over the course of the trip.

2pm:

On our next trip we found another humpback whale about 12 miles offshore. It was a different whale than on our first trip.

This whale was feeding in 109 feet of water. We saw anchovies on the fish finder and a few birds hovering over the whale.

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We saw some fluke dives from this animal, although many of them were shallow. The whale changed directions a lot over the course of the trip.

We also spotted some sea nettles in the water.

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Sightings: 8/4/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours Vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we headed through the fog to the south. Near Mussel Rock we stopped to see a mola mola (ocean sunfish).

While watching the sunfish, we spotted a whale ahead of us. It was moving west and doing frequent fluke dives. As we approached, the water deepened from 40 feet to 56 feet.

As we moved west two more humpback whales appeared. One of the two was Gator, a familiar whale here in the Bay Area.

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It’s possible that the first whale we saw and the other adult were a cow-calf pair.

We spent about 30 minutes with the animals.

12pm:

On our next trip we returned to the same spot, where we had five humpback whales feeding near some fishermen.

We saw lunge feeding and body rolls from these animals, although few fluke dives.

One of the whales we spotted was Gator, who had been feeding in the area earlier in the day. A different whale came within 25 yards of the boat. The whales were in about 50 feet of water, but were relatively close to the shoreline.

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There were also lots of murres with their chicks in the area.

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3pm:

On our final trip of the day we headed back to Mussel Rock and again found five humpbacks feeding in the area.

The whales were within a few hundred yards of the beach, and we could see people walking along the shore.

They lunge fed multiple times all around the boat. There was a huge shoal of anchovy between us and the beach that the whales herded and fed on throughout the trip.

They came within 100 yards of the boat several times. For most of the trip we just idled in the area and watched as the whales swam around us.

We also spotted some fluke dives from these animals.

The way home was very wet, but it was worth it!

Sightings: 7/30/19

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we headed straight out west in some windy weather. We found two humpback whales in the shipping lane between buoys 5 and 3.

The whales were feeding in 38 feet of water. We saw several lunge feeds from these animals.

The fishing fleet was in the area and we saw some large ships pass by us. We did not see fluke dives from these animals.

One of the whales was closer than the other and stayed in pretty much the same area for 45 minutes. After we found the whale, we floated in neutral the whole time. We did not need to change gears to approach, since the whale was staying within 150 yards of us for the entire trip.

We also saw some porpoises and bird activity in the area.

Sightings: 7/26/19

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

On Friday morning, the Marine Mammal Center staff set out on a charter of the Tamalpais to find some whales. First stop was to check out the harbor seals hanging out on the docks at Angel Island.

Next we headed out to the shipping lane, where the conditions were beautiful. There was very little wind or swell, although there was some cold fog.

Near buoys 3 and 4 we found the first humpback whale. We were on the tip of the north bar, so the water was only 32 feet deep. More whales started to be reported in the area from the pilot boat and fishing boats. We followed them as they moved to the south side of the shipping lane. We were also seeing more spouts on the horizon, numbering at least ten in total.

We saw lots of activity from these animals, including a few breaches, body rolls, and pectoral fin slaps.

We also saw a few coordinated lunge feeds.

We slowly moved west with the humpbacks until we were about 14 miles offshore in 95 feet of water. Once the whales were in deeper water we started to see more of their fluke dives.

Thank you to Tamalpais Charters for a great trip!

Sightings Report: June 23, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On this trip we found two traveling humpbacks several miles off of Muir Beach.

They were in about 80 feet of water. We saw a breach and a pectoral fin as the whale rolled on its side.

There was some bird activity, particularly over anchovy bait balls.

We stayed with the whales for about 30 minutes before heading back to port.

2pm:

On the next trip we headed straight west. As we were heading out, we got a report from the Outer Limits that several humpbacks had been seen near buoys 7 and 8. We headed there, but didn’t see anything.

We headed to the northwest and found three feeding humpbacks in the area.

They were lunge feeding, rolling onto their sides, and one was slapping its pectoral fin.

There was bird activity in the area, and we could see bait balls shimmering at the surface.

The whales were in 75 feet of water.

We spent about 35 minutes with these whales, then headed towards the Golden Gate Strait. We were just outside Point Bonita when the captain spotted another humpback whale.

The whale had surfaced just a hundred yards northwest of the lighthouse. We waited a few minutes and were rewarded with a fluke dive from Mercedes Benz - number 12 in our catalog. This whale is a frequent visitor to San Francisco - we’ve seen it every year since 2016.

Sightings Report: June 4, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

After a stretch of bad weather, we headed out on Tuesday with sunshine and good visibility. We went west through the shipping lane, spotting a lot of bird activity as well as some California sea lions resting on the buoys.

We made our way out to the pilot boat, who said they’d seen whales the previous day. We slowly made our way east when a passenger saw a spout. (Shoutout to Michael from Philadelphia!)

At first when we approached the whale we were seeing spouts, but no fluke dives.

After a few minutes we saw a couple of lunge feeds. At one point the whale rolled onto its side and showed us one lobe of the fluke. We'll see if that’s enough to identify it!

2pm:

On our second trip we headed back out to the same area of the shipping lane. It took us a while to find a spout, but eventually we found a humpback whale.

This whale was fluking, so right away we were able to tell that it was a different animal from the previous trip. The dorsal fin was also distinct.

After we had been with the whale for 15 minutes, it began to tail slap. We floated in neutral as the whale slapped for several minutes, at one point coming to about 150 yards away.

Sightings Report: May 4, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

12pm:

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.

3pm:

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.

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

Sightings Report: May 1, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

On this trip we found a gray whale near Richardson Bay. It surfaced roughly every seven minutes.

Over the course of the trip the whale slowly moved towards Tiburon. At a few points it came close to the shoreline and was diving in very shallow water.

As we headed back to the dock, we spotted one dive sequence from a humpback whale, including the fluke. The whale was in the central bay, but we didn’t see it again as we left the area. Soon after, a large oil tanker passed through the area.

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11am:

While we were at the dock, researchers at Golden Gate Cetacean Research were looking at a humpback whale off of Cavallo Point. When headed out on our next trip we went straight to the whale they were observing.

It was a humpback whale feeding on anchovies.

We saw several fluke dives from this animal. A few times it came within 100 yards of our boat.

Over the course of the trip, the whale slowly moved towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was consistent with the outgoing tide, which was likely causing the fish to move west.

We saw lots of harbor seals and California sea lions on this trip as well.

Several of the sea lions were hunting fish underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

2pm:

On our last trip of the day we went out into the Golden Gate Strait in search of the humpback. We relocated the animal in the middle of the strait.

At first we waited west of the animal to see if it was heading out. When it stayed in one spot for a while, we slowly approached.

The whale appeared to be feeding - we had huge bait balls showing on the fish finder. It was coming up at irregular intervals. A few times it lifted its tail high for a rapid deep dive.

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Sightings Report: December 6, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we headed out into the Gulf of the Farallones with beautiful weather. There was sun, very little wind, and gentle swells. We spotted porpoises, sea lions, and harbor seals on our way out into the shipping lane.

About 13 miles west of the bridge we found our first humpback. The animal kept a distance from us and appeared to be travelling. It had a low spout which made us think it might be a gray whale at first.

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Off in the distance we spotted a huge group of birds and a couple spouts. We decided to leave the whale and approach the spot with more activity.

In this area we found two humpbacks. They were active and showed their flukes.

One of them stayed closer to us, once coming within 50 feet of the vessel.

We used happywhale.com to identify this whale as an unnamed individual in the North Pacific catalog. It had previously been seen in Monterey and Puerto Vallarta in 2016.

This whale rolled onto its side and showed us its pectoral fin.