mother and calf

Sightings: 8/7/19

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we found whales right off of Mussel Rock Park in Daly City. 5 humpbacks were feeding in the area in about 40 feet of water.

We saw fluke dives, lunges, and other feeding behaviors from these animals. We had some hovering birds and anchovies on the fish finder.

One whale approached close to the boat.

Two of the whales were a possible cow-calf pair. They spent a lot of time next to each other.


On our next trip we returned to the same spot and found one travelling humpback whale.

It was swimming in 45 feet of water. There were some outboard fishing vessels in the area, as well as birds and anchovies.

There was another humpback whale in the distance as well.

Special Sighting: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Sightings from Monterey Bay Whale Watch vessel Sea Wolf II

This whale watching trip was an 8 hour expedition with the intent of finding killer whales. Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers these 8 hour trips in April and May.

We first headed out of the harbor around 8am, looking out for sea otters.

There were lots of sea lions resting on the jetty as well as a few playing in the water.

Near the jetty we saw male cormorants gathering nesting material and bringing it to their partners, who were building the nests.

We headed west until we got to the deep canyons of Monterey Bay. At that point we spotted a group of 50-100 Risso’s dolphins.

There were newborn calves in the group, identifiable by the presence of fetal folds. The calves stuck close to their mothers.

Risso’s dolphins do not bowride like smaller dolphins might, so we moved at slow speeds around the animals.

There were also several black-footed albatrosses in the area.

By the end of the trip I saw dozens of albatrosses, including one group of six sitting together on the water.

After we left the Risso’s dolphins, we headed west again for a bit, where we found a few humpback whales.

Two of the humpbacks were feeding together while birds and sea lions flocked around them.

We spent about twenty minutes with these animals.

After that we headed back to the south, where there were reports of more humpback whales from other whale watching boats. When we approached, we found a humpback mother and calf.

The calf was breaching for several minutes straight, allowing for lots of opportunities to photograph it.

We got a good view of the ventral side of the whale, where the umbilicus was visible.

We also saw fluke dives from both animals and some pectoral fin slaps from the calf.

After spending some time with the mother and calf we continued on south in search of some reported Pacific White Sided dolphins, but the wind was picking up and we eventually had to turn around and head back to the dock.

On the way in we stopped to look at some very cute sea otters who were eating mussels inside the harbor.

We also got a last look at the cormorants and the sea lions before we disembarked.

Sightings Report: August 30, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we found two humpback whales just west of Point Bonita.

It was a mother and calf feeding together. We saw them lunge feed separately and in synchrony with one another.

There were several large ships moving past them as they fed.

The whales mostly kept their distance. At one point they approached to just over 100 yards before starting to swim west.


On our second trip we found a humpback whale a little ways west of where we’d left the mother and calf on our earlier trip.

This whale was throwing flukes, likely diving to feed on anchovies.


Sightings Report: August 26, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


On our first trip of the day we found two humpback whales. They were feeding and diving in synchrony.

One was much larger than the other, suggesting that we were seeing a mother and calf.

The whales stayed about 100 yards away from us. Towards the end of the trip they seemed to be heading west.


On the next trip, we located another humpback whale. This one also threw flukes, giving us identifiable pictures.


We saw several breaches from this individual from a distance.


Sightings Report: August 22, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we headed north with calm water and foggy conditions. We found one humpback near Stinson Beach.

There were fishing vessels in the area as well. We saw a few fluke dives from the animal.


We headed back to the area near Stinson Beach and found a different humpback feeding there.

We stayed with this animal for a while and saw several lunge feeds, a few of which were within 50 yards of the boat.

On our way back, we found another whale near Muir Beach. This whale traveled close to shore.


We headed north again on this trip and found four humpback whales near Muir Beach. There were two individuals and one pair feeding cooperatively.

The pair swam in synchrony and may have been a mother and calf.

We saw several lunge feeds from these animals, including some that happened within 100 yards of the boat.

There was a lot of bird activity in the area. They focused on the areas above the whales where lots of anchovies had been stirred up and forced towards the surface by the lunge feeds.

Sightings Report: July 5, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat. All photos in this post taken by SFWT photographer Leigh. 


On this trip we were able to locate a mother humpback with her calf in out in the shipping lane between buoys 3 and 4. 


3-4 large container ships passed by the whales while we were there. We made sure they had plenty of space while other vessels were present. 

The two were not fluking much, although we saw a few fluke dives from the calf. They were slowly heading west. 


We spotted another spout a little bit farther north. The whale started moving east towards the bridge, and we followed at a distance until we moved back towards port. 


On this trip a crew member spotted a breach at Mile Rock while we were still under the bridge. 


The humpback whale continued to breach, followed by several pectoral slaps. We also saw several fluke dives. 


The whale slowly moved east, breaching and slapping continuously. 

A large container ship passed by us and the whale moved in to Kirby Cove, where we saw a breach in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. 


It then traveled all the way across to Fort Point and then back to the bridge. 


We also spotted lots of harbor porpoises near the end of the trip. 

Sightings Report: July 2, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


We had beautiful sea conditions as we headed out into the Golden Gate Strait. The sky was foggy, but the ocean was calm and there was very little wind. We quickly found a whale just inside Point Bonita. 

We saw a few fluke dives from the humpback. We also spotted another spout across the Golden Gate Strait and two more out past Point Bonita. I decided to move out towards the two whales to the west. 

We slowly approached the whales, who were feeding along a tide line. It was a mother and calf surfacing in synchrony. We gave them plenty of space, since mother-calf pairs tend to be extra sensitive to human interactions. They were not throwing flukes. 

After watching them for a few minutes, we drifted back towards the Golden Gate Strait, where we relocated some of the whales we had seen earlier. The two of them had moved to the west, while the mother-calf pair started to move east. 


Visibility was decreasing as we headed back to port surrounded by fog. I spotted the first common murre chicks I have seen this season.



On our next trip the fog had engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge, but in the strait visibility improved significantly. Some passengers spotted our first whale in the middle of the strait.

We saw one fluke dive from this humpback, who then disappeared. 


I had my eye on more spouts near Point Bonita, so we headed that way. Near the lighthouse we found two humpbacks. One of them was the individual Akula, easily recognizable by the flat dorsal fin. 


The other individual started tail slapping repeatedly while birds hovered around it. The tail slapping continued for several minutes. Occasionally the whale would take a break and then start slapping again. 

At one point a gray whale popped up 50 yards in front of us before swimming away to the other side of the strait. 


We stayed with the active whale for most of the trip. At one point it breached 70 yards from our boat. 

We had at least 6 humpbacks and 1 gray within a half mile of our vessel. A large container ship passed us during the trip.

At the end of the trip as we headed back to port, we saw a whale near Point Bonita breach three times, followed by a whale at Mile Rock tail slapping. 


I saw lots of murres with fish in their beaks on this trip.


Sightings Report: April 29, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

High winds were in the forecast as we started to make our way out to the Farallon Islands. The Golden Gate Strait was especially rough due to a powerful incoming tide. 

We had just passed the Golden Gate Bridge when we saw spouts. It was a humpback in the middle of the strait. 


We were not seeing any flukes from this whale. Another whale spouted out near Point Bonita. We also spotted a few harbor porpoises in the strait. 

We decided to continue on and attempt the islands despite the wind. We turned north towards Bolinas and slowly made our way up the coast, noting a large amount of bird activity and a rainbow off our bow. 


Eventually we turned west, observing several sea lions resting on a channel marker. The weather started to improve. 

Eight miles from the islands we began to see big spouts. A group of 5 whales surfaced about 200 yards from our boat, spouting in synchrony. Their tall dorsal fin and huge size identified them as fin whales. 

The fins swam all around the area, sticking together for the most part. The swell was big, so we could see them surfacing on top of large waves. 

There were spouts all around us from fin whales and humpbacks, most at least 300-400 yards away. I counted at least 10 animals within 500 yards of us. We slowly continued our trek towards the islands. 


When we first reached the islands, they were misty and gray. There were tons of common murres, gulls, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants in the air and water. 

We first headed to Mirounga Bay, observing the sea lions on the rocks and some fur seals resting on Saddle Rock. As we floated, we observed more spouts farther out towards the continental shelf. 

We saw a total of 3 tufted puffins, all flying in the air close to the islands. 

We slowly made our way around the island. As we were heading towards Fisherman's Bay, we saw a spout at our stern. We quickly put the boat in neutral and waited. Then a gray whale popped up in a huge group of gulls who had been floating on the surface.

We saw the gray within 50 yards of the boat for a few minutes before it started heading east. Then we continued on to Fisherman's Bay. 

Above Fisherman's Bay we could see thousands of nesting murres on the islands. Three Canada Geese flew by. 

Eventually we turned towards land and started back home. Five miles from the islands we saw more spouts. Initially I saw some more fin whales. Then there was a huge spout and the unmistakable light gray body of a blue whale. More whales spouted in the distance. 


We went another five miles and found a humpback, who breached twice. We continued past it. 

We saw nothing else until we were almost back to the Golden Gate Strait. There, near Mile Rock, we found two humpbacks. They were potentially a mother and calf.

The smaller whale breached over and over again, slowly moving west. 

The larger whale surfaced a lot less often. Near the end, the smaller one also started slapping its tail and pectoral fins on the water. 

It was a fantastic finale for our trip!  

Sightings Report: September 2, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


This trip had very calm seas, humid air and bright sun. On a day of record breaking heat, we found two humpback whales out past the Golden Gate Bridge near Baker Beach. 

Fluke in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Fluke in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

The two whales were doing fluke dives and moving slowly towards the bridge with the incoming tide. One was smaller, suggesting they might have been a mother with a juvenile. 

There was a lot of boat traffic, including two large container ships, a sailboat race, and other small power boats. SFWT vessel Happy Days was also out whale watching. 

The two SFWT vessels were both 200-250 yards away from the whales, floating in neutral, when a small Parker boat sped past doing at least 15 knots. When the small boat saw the surfacing whale, they did a u-turn and chased down the whale. They approached at high speeds and got within 20 feet of the whale, who sped up its dives. Several times the whale decided to forgo a fluke dive in favor of a faster, shallower dive. The boat repeated this behavior three times, speeding towards the whale every time it surfaced. 

We attempted to call the boat on the radio, but got no answer. At one point they approached Happy Days and we could faintly hear Captain John on the microphone informing them that they were breaking the Be Whale Wise rules. At that point the boat sped away from us and the whales. 

We continued to float in neutral, waiting to see where the whale would surface. At that point it came up within 30 yards of our boat and swam in front of the bow, giving us a good look. 

After the whale was safely at least 100 yards away, we slowly moved back towards Pier 39. Besides whales, we also spotted harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and California sea lions on this trip. We also used the boat hook and a piece of duct tape to remove a plastic water bottle from the strait. 

All sightings were reported to vessel traffic. Photos of the small vessel have been forwarded to NOAA. 


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: August 28, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


As we left port we passed over a distinct tide line where the water dramatically changed color between the ocean water and the bay water. Frothed zooplankton (sea foam) gathered along the line. 

Birds hovering over the spot where a whale is about to surface. 

Birds hovering over the spot where a whale is about to surface. 

We found 3-4 humpback whales outside the Golden Gate Bridge near Point Bonita. There was a lot of bird activity over each whale as they did fluke dives on all sides of us. 

Two of the whales, potentially a mother and calf, swam east into the Golden Gate Strait. We followed slowly and at a distance.

I spotted a mylar balloon in the water - the fourth one in two days. We did a man overboard drill to retrieve it. 

Balloon retrieved from water. 

Balloon retrieved from water. 

As we headed back in, we saw a humpback surface right in front of a large container ship underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. We called Vessel Traffic and made sure they had a visual on the whale before proceeding back to port. 

As we left, the fog was starting to gather around the bridge. 


As we left the dock a sea lion swam near the pilings. It was foggy, windy, and cold, but the tide was still coming in even as we left, so we expected to find the whales farther east than we had left them. The top of the tide was 5:15pm. 

We found the humpback under the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge feeding in over 300 feet of water.

We floated in neutral and it surfaced within 100 yards of us as tons of traffic sped around the area, including a multitude of kite surfers. One kite surfer came extremely close to a surfacing whale. 

We saw some fluke dives and some long dives where no fluke was shown. The dives lasted close to five minutes. We noticed lots of harbor porpoise on our way in. 

Elegant terns flying by. 

Elegant terns flying by. 

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!