outer limits

Sightings Report: May 20, 2018

8am sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours trip on vessel Outer Limits

Heavy wind was in the forecast as we set out for the Farallon Islands on Sunday morning. We made our way out through the bay and up the north side of the strait, pausing near Diablo Cove to look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks. We also spotted some pigeon guillemots and a black oystercatcher on the rocks. 

Just beyond Diablo Cove we saw a spout. It was a humpback whale. 

The humpback was throwing flukes, occasionally coming within 100 yards of us. 

The whale seemed to be making its way in towards the bridge. We decided to leave the whale and continue on towards the islands. 

We turned north out of the strait, making our way up the coast. The section between Point Bonita and Bolinas was experiencing strong tidal action in addition to the heavy wind, so the water was rough. 

When we reached Bolinas we turned west and continued out to the islands. There were 6-8 foot wind waves. About 3 miles from the islands, we saw another spout, but we decided to continue on to the islands. There were lots of sooty shearwaters flying in this area. 

We made it to the Farallons and ducked into Fisherman's Bay. There were a couple of tufted puffins in this area.

There was a huge amount of common murres both on the rocks and in the water. Stellar's sea lions rested on the rocks. 

We made our way around the island to Mirounga Bay, were we spotted a spout. It was a smaller spout. After a few spouts we saw the body and were able to identify it as a gray whale. 


The gray whale traveled north and we followed for a while. When we reached the western tip of the island, the water got very rough and we decided to go back on the lee side of the island.


On our way back around we spotted some more puffins and a couple of rhinocerous auklets. 


We left the islands and started home, hoping to find some more whales on the way back. We had barely gone a mile when we spotted a huge spout. We had two blue whales in front of us. 

The blues moved northwest and we were pushed southeast by the wind. Slowly we drifted apart. 

We continued back towards the Golden Gate. Just after we passed shipping lane buoys 7 & 8 we found a distinct tide line where the water went from blue to gray-green and got significantly rougher. 

We were 3 miles from the demarcation line when some passengers saw a breaching whale. We approached and found the whale slapping its pectoral fins on the water. 


It then started breaching over and over again, followed by more pectoral fin slapping and some tail slapping. 

A large container ship passed by as we watched this activity. Two more humpback whales joined in, with one of them breaching. 

By the time we left the humpbacks we were almost at Mile Rock. The humpbacks were being pushed in with the tide just like we were. It pushed us all the way back to port. 

3pm sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The tide continued to come in as we headed out on our last trip of the day. We were heading through some rougher bay water when I saw a spout near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

It turned out we had three humpbacks near the bridge. Gator and Topspot were near the north tower, with a third individual near the south tower. They moved together over the course of the trip. 

We saw several lunge feeds from the whales, as well as many fluke dives. Occasionally the whales would float on their side, showing one of the lobes of the fluke. There were a lot of smaller recreational boats out whale watching.

The whales moved in over the course of the trip. We were in the central bay by the time we left the humpbacks. 


On our way back in, I spotted a smaller spout near Alcatraz. I saw it once more a few minutes later. I suspect that it was a gray whale. 

We also saw lots of harbor porpoise surfing the current in the middle of the bay on this trip, in addition to harbor seals and sea lions. 

Sightings Report: January 28th, 2018

Sighting from SFWT trip on vessel Outer Limits

This trip saw some of the best weather we had seen in a few months. Light northerly winds meant that the day was sunny and there were few whitecaps. 

We were searching for whales the whole trip out to the Farallon Islands. We had great visibility, spotting several groups of harbor porpoises, a few harbor seals, and California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys. 

We had just made it close to the islands when I saw a spout to the south. I called it out to the captain and we made our way towards it slowly. 

As we observed the whale's stout, heart-shaped blow, we spotted another spout to the west. It turned out we had three gray whales surrounding us. 

One of the grays surfaced alone while the other two dove and surfaced in synchrony. One of the whales in the pair was floating on its side and on its back, showing us a pectoral fin and half of the fluke. This social behavior is not commonly seen in our area, where the whales are often focused on traveling. 

Whales floating on their sides, bellies facing each other. You can see one lobe of a fluke and some pectoral fins sticking out of the water. A few gray whales display mating behavior on their migration south, especially if they're later in the season.

Whales floating on their sides, bellies facing each other. You can see one lobe of a fluke and some pectoral fins sticking out of the water. A few gray whales display mating behavior on their migration south, especially if they're later in the season.

We watched the whales interact with each other while floating in neutral. We saw several fluke dives, and a few times the whales came within 100 yards of the boat. 

Gray whale fluke.

Gray whale fluke.

After spending almost an hour with the whales, we headed towards the islands. We saw a large group of eared grebes in Mirounga Bay, along with surf scoters, pelagic and double crested cormorants, common murres and western gulls.

Eared grebes.

Eared grebes.

As we moved around the northern side of the island, a Peregrine falcon soared overhead. 



We turned back around the island towards Fisherman's Bay, getting a close look at the seabirds on Sugarloaf. The California and Stellar's sea lions on shore barked and slid into the water. 

We also noticed moon jellies and pacific sea nettles in the water. 

Murre arch.

Murre arch.

Our trip back was smooth and sunny, with more porpoise and seal sightings near the Golden Gate Bridge.