murres

Sightings Report: June 22, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we found one humpback whale about ten miles west of Stinson Beach.

The whale was feeding in 90 feet of water.

We saw one fluke dive and some lunge feeding from this animal. A few small fishing boats with outboard motors passed by us.

There wasn’t much on the fish finder, but we did see birds diving and hovering over the whales. We spent about 30 minutes with them before heading back to port.

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12pm:

On our second trip we found a humpback whale feeding in roughly the same area.

The depth was around 85 feet and we spotted birds hovering over the whale.

We spent just over half an hour with this animal before heading back to port. Photos on this trip were taken by naturalist Michael Pierson.

3pm:

On this trip we found a humpback whale in roughly the same spot as the morning trip. Over the course of the trip the whale headed south, moving from 85 feet of water to 35 feet over a few minutes.

We saw lots of feeding activity from this whale, including lunge feeds, fluke dives, and body rolls.

There appeared to be haystacks of krill on the fish finder. We stayed with the whale for about 35 minutes.

Sightings Report: July 19, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

2pm:

The morning weather had been rough, but by the 2pm trip it was starting to improve. We headed west and found a humpback in the shipping lane, 11 miles from home. 

We saw a few fluke dives from the whale as it moved west. 

We also spotted lots of murres with their chicks.

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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: June 26, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

We headed out through the shipping lane towards buoys 7/8, where we had last seen whales. We paused and waited, searching all around for the whales. Finally a crew member spotted a spout 500 yards west of us. 

We moved towards buoys 5/6, where we found a humpback. The whale was making shallow dives and changing directions constantly. 

There was a huge group of birds in the area, many with anchovies in their beaks. A few times the whale approached within 100 yards of our vessel. 

At one point during the sighting two large vessels passed through the shipping lane. We went to the opposite side of the lane as the whale, allowing it plenty of space while they passed. 

After the ships were gone, we again approached the whale, which was slowly moving west. 

We also spotted some harbor porpoises and some habor seals at a distance. 

Sightings Report: June 23, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

3pm: 

We headed out through the Golden Gate Strait and found a humpback whale near Mile Rock. It was exhibiting feeding behaviors. We also saw murres with anchovies in their mouths in the area. 

The whale gave several big tail slaps. 

There were more whales in the area, with two more humpbacks near the northern shipping lane and another in Bonita Cove. 

We also had a gray whale in the area. It approached us and surfaced within 50 yards of the boat. It surfaced several times followed by a fluke dive. We noticed some big plumes of mud near the whale, indicating feeding. 

A few big container ships and a couple of smaller fishing boats passed by us. We also noticed the group of juvenile Brandt's cormorants off of Mile Rock. 

6pm:

We headed back out for our final trip of the day. We first found a gray whale in the middle of the strait. We watched it for a few minutes as it seemed to head west. 

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We had three more spouts in the area, indicating a humpback near Baker Beach, one near Mile Rock, and one near Point Bonita. 

We positioned ourselves between Mile Rock and Baker Beach and floated in neutral. The tide pushed us down towards the whale, and the most eastern humpback surfaced on our starboard side 100 yards from our vessel. 

The humpback swam around our bow to the port side, then started tail slapping repeatedly. 

Both of us slowly got pushed in. We were watching the whale fluking in the strait as we sat underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

At one point we moved out of the way for a large container ship.

There was a lot of bird and harbor seal activity in the area as well.

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Sightings Report: June 3, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

There was wind in the forecast as we set out towards the Farallon Islands on Saturday morning. We made our way out through the Golden Gate Strait, sighting a couple of spouts by Mile Rock. We decided to continue past the whales in hopes of beating the wind to the islands. 

We turned north and headed up the coast until we hit Bolinas. We then turned west and continued for twenty miles in sunshine and relatively calm water. 

7 miles from the islands the sun disappeared behind a thick layer of fog and the wind picked up. At one point a humpback popped up 50 yards from our boat. We saw it spout once more before it disappeared.

It was slow going through rough water for those last few miles, but we made it. We headed for Mirounga Bay so that we could have the swell at our back as we explored the islands. Murres, guillemots, cormorants and gulls all circled the islands and rested on the rocks. 

We also spotted elephant seals, Stellar's sea lions and California sea lions on the islands and in the water close to shore. 

Weanling elephant seal taking a look at us.

Weanling elephant seal taking a look at us.

We stayed on the lee side of the island, then slowly started the push home. A few minutes into our return journey we saw a large spout. We stopped and floated while a fin whale approached us to 30 yards, swimming around our port side to the stern before disappearing. 

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As we continued our journey back to port, the weather slowly improved. We noticed some sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys and some harbor porpoise in the channel. 

As we continued in, we found one humpback underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw a couple of fluke dives from this animal. 

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There were also a lot of harbor seals near the bridge. It was still very windy when we made it back to port. 

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Sightings Report: May 13, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallons Trip: 

We had just started on our Farallon Islands trip when we found a humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw a fluke dive and decided to continue past it to increase our chances of making it to the islands. 

There was a southern wind to 10 knots forecasted, but we had pretty much no wind as we headed west. We were able to make good time and covered twenty miles quickly. At one point the captain reported a leatherback turtle, but we were unable to locate it. We did see several large Pacific Sea Nettles. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

Eight miles from the islands we started to see spouts. There was a group of five humpbacks swimming very close together, surfacing in synchrony. 

Humpback whales. 

Humpback whales. 

There were a couple of huge spouts from blue whales. At one point, a fin whale surfaced 75 yards from us. There was also a large group of common murres in this area, along with other bird species. 

Blue whale. 

Blue whale. 

One of the humpbacks came 50 yards from our boat. It seemed to be on the small side. Most of these whales were not doing fluke dives. 

We also saw a black-footed albatross gliding ahead of us and land on the water. 

We also saw a sea lion floating in the water in this area. We picked up a balloon as well. 

We continued on towards the islands. Observers at the lighthouse informed us that there were orcas near the continental shelf, so we went past the islands and continued five miles past them in search of the orcas. We saw no spouts of any kind, but there were a lot of birds in the area. 

A couple more albatrosses were flying near us. We were in 2500 feet of water, with lots of krill. I was surprised that there were absolutely no spouts. 

We slowly made our way back to the islands, coming around to Mirounga Bay and working our way east. The islands were full of sea lions, murres, cormorants and gulls. 

We saw several tufted puffins, both in the air and floating on the water. 

Eventually we started to make our way back towards the Golden Gate. On our way back we had several whale sightings from a distance. 

3pm: 

We headed out for our final trip of the day. Passengers spotted a spout underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It took a while to spout again, but when it did we were able to confirm that it was a gray whale. 

There was a huge amount of ship traffic, both inbound and outbound. 

We observed some harbor seals and harbor porpoises in this spot as well. 

Eventually we decided to continue out and find humpbacks. We found three out past Mile Rock, including some familiar flukes. Two of them were staying pretty close together. 

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The whales were near a big group of cormorants. 

Near the end of our observation period, a humpback surfaced 75 yards off our port bow and swam to our starboard stern. 

Sightings Report: March 17, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat. 

The week preceding this trip was stormy and wet, so we were pleased to find on Saturday that there were only light winds and showers in the forecast. As we headed north out of the Golden Gate Strait, we even got a view of a full rainbow. 

We had just made the turn west when we spotted a humpback whale spouting 500 yards away. We slowly approached. 

The whale was traveling north, which made it difficult to follow. After a few minutes of watching the humpback recede into the distance, we decided to continue on to the islands. We went through a few wet patches, including a mini hailstorm. It was clear at the islands, though we could see rain and enormous clouds in all directions. 

Watching the rain from a distance. 

Watching the rain from a distance. 

We first pulled into Fisherman's Bay, where we saw Steller sea lions resting on the rocks and bobbing in the water.

There were lots of common murres in the water, as well as a large group of pigeon guillemots.

As we motored towards Saddle Rock, we also spotted a black footed kittiwake, surf scoters, a few species of cormorants, eared grebes, and a few auklets. 

As we went by the scientists were bringing a group of volunteers up on to the island via crane. 

We continued around the island to check out Mirounga Bay. We spotted a plastic water bottle and performed a man overboard drill to recover it.

Water bottle floating on a glassy sea. We pick up plastic whenever the sea conditions allow it.

Water bottle floating on a glassy sea. We pick up plastic whenever the sea conditions allow it.

As we finished maneuvering to get the plastic, a passenger spotted a spout 300 yards south of us. 

It was a gray whale with especially dark skin, making it seem like a humpback at first glance. We got a few close looks from our bow as the gray swam by. 

On our way back towards the mainland, we stopped for several more spouts. These were all gray whales and all seemed to be on the move; they surfaced infrequently and would reappear far from their last location. 

A gray whale's back.

A gray whale's back.

We also spotted harbor porpoises, harbor seals, and California sea lions. 

Sightings Report: January 13th, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

I found my first whale of the new year five miles east of the Farallon Islands. An easterly wind pushed us out towards the islands and resisted the western swell, creating heavier seas. We spotted the gray whale's spout from about half a mile away and approached slowly. 

The whale spouted a few times, then did long dives of 5-10 minutes. It was travelling south in the direction of its migration path. After a few minutes, we left the whale and continued on towards the Farallons. 

Churning seas made taking photographs of this whale especially difficult!

Churning seas made taking photographs of this whale especially difficult!

It was sunny and teeming with life at the islands. We ducked into Fisherman's Bay where clouds of common murres circled us. On shore dozens of sea lions rested. We floated in the bay, observing them. 

Suddenly an avalanche of sea lion pups started to slide down the rocks and into the water, juveniles and adults close behind. They splashed and leaped into the roiling seas, barking loudly. 

We made our way around the southeast side of the island. A large wave was breaking in Mirounga Bay.

We spotted several sea nettles and some moon jellies in the water below. We slowly made our way around the north side of the island, spotting sooty shearwaters, surf scoters, and a Cassin's Auklet. 

Pacific sea nettle floating near the surface. 

Pacific sea nettle floating near the surface. 

On our way home, a few passengers pointed out some spouts behind us. We turned around in time to notice 2-3 spouts and one fluke, likely from another group of gray whales. We waited for them to surface again but were unsuccessful in relocating them. 

Common murres near the islands.

Common murres near the islands.

After a few more miles of rough weather, the wind was blocked by the land and we had a smooth ride home.