Sightings Report: July 17, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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: September 10, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

We started off the day with good sea conditions and a lot of fog. We saw harbor porpoises and harbor seals on our way out. The forecast said the fog was to extend to 10 miles offshore; however, it didn't start to clear up until we reached the islands. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

When we were close to the Farallons, we spotted our first tufted puffin in the water near the boat. We moved over to Fisherman's Bay and spotted a juvenile yellow-billed loon in the water. 

As we made our way around the islands, we spotted lots of California and Steller sea lions on the shore and a few in the water. Some elephant seals were sighted inside Garbage Gulch. 

There were lots of drifting creatures in the water near the islands, including pelagic tunicates and moon, box, fried egg, and comb jellies. 

We headed off towards the continental shelf, hoping to find whales. We went west of the Farallons and started heading northwest. We found one whale just a few miles from the island but had reports of more whales a few miles ahead from the Oceanic Society on the Salty Lady, so we pushed onward. 

40 miles offshore we found a dozen humpbacks and 2-3 blue whales feeding in over 1000 feet of water. The ocean became a deep turquoise; our equipment said it was 63 degrees. In the photos below, the whales with dark bodies are humpbacks and the ones with light gray bodies are blue whales.

We saw flukes and spouts from the humpbacks and one fluke from a blue whale. One of the humpbacks was entangled in a buoy near the Salty Lady, who reported the whale to the Coast Guard. 

There were 2-3 black-footed albatrosses present at the shelf as well as many gulls. 

Black footed albatross.

Black footed albatross.

We left the area with a long journey home ahead of us. As we passed west of the Farallons, we spotted a lot of thrashing. As we got closer we saw it was a couple of sea lions tossing around an unidentified fish as hungry birds gathered overhead. 

We headed back down the middle of the shipping lane, where we spotted 3 mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish. We picked up a balloon nearby. 

The water as we came in was unusually glassy. The fog had cleared and we had a calm, quick ride in with no whale sightings. 


On our next trip we decided to go back up the shipping lane and see if we had missed any whales on our way back in. We saw a lot of bird activity, harbor porpoises, and a harbor seal as we made our way through San Francisco Bay and then the Golden Gate Strait.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

We ended up finding 4 humpbacks at shipping lane buoys 1/2. We saw a few fluke dives and spouts. Two different whales did tail slaps, with one slapping repeatedly. 

There was some shipping traffic coming in. We spotted California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys and red necked phalaropes in the water. 

All sightings near the shipping lane were reported to Vessel Traffic.

If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!


Sightings Report: September 7, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


Our first trip of the day was greeted by some morning rain. This is a very strange occurrence in September. The rain was paired with southerly winds and a relatively warm temperature.

We saw lots of harbor porpoise activity and two harbor seals swimming side by side on our way out into the strait. The tide was coming in as we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Golden Gate Strait, and out into the shipping lane. 

The first thing we noticed were California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys 5 & 6. Soon we found spouts from three different humpbacks feeding in only 35 feet of water on the south side of the shipping lane. 

There were a few fluke dives in addition to shallower dives. The whales stayed at least 200 yards away from us. We followed slowly and at a distance as they moved across to the north side of the lane. We made sure that Vessel Traffic was aware of their presence so close to the shipping lane. 

There was a lot of harbor porpoise activity on this trip. We left the area slowly, then rode the western swell back to port. 


On our second trip of the day we found the whales in the exact same spot we had left them at shipping buoys 5 & 6. They were in 48 feet of water, the first 17 feet of which were packed with anchovies. Two whales were feeding on several giant bait balls. We could see the surface of the water boiling with anchovies as they leaped into the air in an attempt to escape the predators below, only to land in the waiting beaks of hungry birds. 

We saw the two humpbacks do fluke dives, and had one breach off our stern. There was a single fishing boat nearby. We used the boathook to pick up a piece of trash which turned out to be a wrapper from a container of frozen squid. It was certainly from a fishing boat. 

The whales were elusive and for the most part stayed at least a couple hundred yards away. As we floated near a ball of bait, one whale surfaced within 70 feet of us. Near the end the whales seemed to be moving out, and we eventually lost sight of them. 



On our way back in, we spotted two more humpbacks by the junction buoy outside of Point Bonita. There was a lot of bird activity and quite a few fishing boats in the area. We couldn't stay very long to watch them, so we slowly continued on our way back to the pier. 

Point Bonita.

Point Bonita.


The weather on this trip was the nicest it had been all day. The water was glassy and the wind had died. We headed out towards the junction buoy where we left the whales. We found a huge group of wailing birds and lots of fish, but no whales. 

We moved slowly through the area, hoping to pick up a spout. When we didn't find anything, we continued out to buoys 5 & 6 where we had seen whales earlier. Again, we saw huge bait balls where the water boiled with anchovies, large numbers of feeding harbor porpoises, lots of bird activity and several jellyfish floating by. We searched the area for a while, but even though we saw a lot of life, we didn't see any whales. 

We were searching for our entire trip back. In the strait, we spotted a harbor seal and a leopard shark leaping out of the water. 

Harbor porpoise.

Harbor porpoise.

On this trip we picked up two mylar balloons near a large bait ball just outside Point Bonita. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!