mola mola

Sightings: 9/22/19

Sightings from Tamalpais Charters vessel Tamalpais

On this trip with Tamalpais Charters we headed west underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, spotting harbor porpoises and some California sea lions. There was a lot of bird activity in the Golden Gate Strait. We spotted elegant terns, common murres, brown pelicans, western, California,  and Heerman’s gulls. 

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We headed out west towards the north bar. On our way we stopped to look at a young mola mola (ocean sunfish). There were tons of porpoises in this area as well. 

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As we headed farther west, we spotted a couple of spouts on the horizon. We ended up with a whale on either side of us and were able to spot one fluke dive. 

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We approached the other of the two whales, whose dorsal fin I recognized as a whale named Akula. 

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Akula appeared to be resting. She swam in large circles, surfacing every few minutes. At one point she approached the boat within 50 yards. 

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After spending about 40 minutes with these whales we started our journey back to Tiburon, spotting a couple of parasitic jaegers and several types of cormorants along the way. 

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: 8/4/19

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!

Golden Gate: 7/23/19

Sightings from the Golden Gate Bridge

I headed to the Golden Gate Bridge at about 4pm. High tide was scheduled for 5:20 pm.

For the first 30 minutes that I walked the bridge, I only saw pelicans and other seabirds.

As I walked toward the center span, I spotted a bright white spot on the water. It was a mola mola (ocean sunfish). These are rare inside San Francisco Bay, so I was surprised to see one coming in with the tide underneath the bridge!

As the tide came up farther, I spotted a harbor seal near the center span.

Eventually I started seeing a few porpoises as well. They were moving quickly under the bridge, usually in groups of 2-3 individuals. The water is cloudy with plankton at this time of year, so it is difficult to track the porpoises once they dive under.

I saw several large ships pass underneath the bridge. I also spotted the coast guard helicopter.

Sightings Report: October 21, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we headed out to the Farallon Islands. We had relatively good weather with very little wind, although the skies were grey.

We turned north out of the Golden Gate Strait and made our way to Bolinas, where we turned west towards the islands.

When we made the turn, we found a humpback whale. It breached and showed us its fluke.

We decided to continue past the whale to make the best of the good weather. On our way we picked up several balloons.

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When we got to the islands we started in Fisherman’s Bay. There were lots of California and Stellar’s sea lions on the rocks.

We also spotted a couple of peregrine falcons on top of sugarloaf, and a couple of brown boobies farther down the rock.

We then moved towards Mirounga Bay. Diver Ron Elliot and Great White Adventures were both present, searching for Great White sharks. We didn’t hear any shark reports from them, but the cage diving boat reported that a gray whale had swum close to their cage.

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There was another falcon on top of Saddle Rock.

When we turned around and made our way back towards the California coast, we spotted a couple of sunfish close to our boat. One was floating with it’s mouth out of the water.

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The sunfish (also known as mola mola) ended up near our stern, where one of them started breaching! It breached three times in a row.

On our way back towards the shipping lane, we saw several more whales including several breaches. It brought our humpback whale count up to 9-10 animals.

Sightings Report: July 11, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days.

8am:

On our first trip we found a humpback whale in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait. The whale was moving east towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 

There was an enormous group of birds near Kirby Cove. Many birds had anchovies in their mouths. We also spotted anchovies boiling at the surface. 

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The whale moved through this active area, then in under the bridge to Crissy Field. 

While we watched the whale fluke, we spotted a small sunfish near our boat. 

A large container ship passed behind us as the whale made its way towards Fort Point. 

We picked up two pieces of trash on this trip.

11am:

On our next trip we stopped immediately to pick up a chunk of styrofoam. We continued on through the bay until we reached Fort Point, where the humpback whale was still feeding. 

We could see anchovies at the surface of the water. Harbor seals and harbor porpoises were also taking advantage of the food in the area. A container ship and many smaller boats passed by as well.

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The whale stayed in the area and did not leave the bay.

Sightings Report: October 5, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

As we headed out of the bay and into the Golden Gate Strait, we experienced rapidly diminishing visibility due to thick fog. The previous day's trip had found a whale inside San Francisco Bay, so we were on the lookout for a humpback close to shore. There was a lot of bird and harbor porpoise activity in the strait. 

We headed into the fog with good sea conditions but a visibility of 100-400 yards. At one point we spotted a mola mola (ocean sunfish) floating near the water's surface. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

We found one whale between buoys 2 and 4. The fog was thick, so when the humpback did a deeper dive we were unable to reacquire it right away. We did a large circle and relocated the whale in the same spot we had left it. We put the boat in neutral and it approached us to 50 yards before fluking. The humpback's dorsal fin was unusual with a big slice down the middle of it. 

We were unable to reacquire the whale. We looked for it as we headed back the way we came, noting the California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

We ducked into Diablo Cove to take a look at the harbor seals and watch some of the planes practicing for Fleet Week before we headed back to port. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

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!

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. 

3pm: 

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 info.whalegirl@gmail.com! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!

 

Sightings Report: September 9, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

9am: 

We found the humpbacks in the middle of the shipping lane, near buoys 3/4. There were two humpbacks diving and feeding in 40 feet of water. 

There was some bird activity near the whales, as well as some shipping activity. We spotted a sooty shearwater. There was significant swell, but no wind. 

Humpback with distinctive dorsal fin.

Humpback with distinctive dorsal fin.

One whale approached within 100 yards of us. We saw very few fluke dives. We also spotted a mola mola, or sunfish, feeding on a jellyfish. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

California sea lions were spotted on the shipping lane buoys. One more humpback was spotted near the junction buoy on our way back in. 

California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys 3 and 4.

California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys 3 and 4.

We also saw a parasitic jaeger harassing a group of elegant terns. All whale sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Parasitic jaeger with elegant terns.

Parasitic jaeger with elegant terns.

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!