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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: September 7, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

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. 

11am: 

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. 

Cormorants.

Cormorants.

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.

2pm: 

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 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 2, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

3pm: 

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. 

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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: August 22, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

We found our first whale of the day under the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw several fluke dives as the whale moved back into the middle of the Golden Gate Strait. 

Humpback fluke under the bridge.

Humpback fluke under the bridge.

The whale was diving in 300+ feet of water, and the dives were longer than average. We saw a small amount of fish on the sonar. 

Humpback in front of Baker Beach.

Humpback in front of Baker Beach.

We had very calm water for this trip. We had a man overboard drill and picked up a plastic bag floating near the bridge.

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We sighted many harbor porpoises with their calves as well as harbor seals and sea lions. 

11am: 

As we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge, we thought we saw a big splash near Mile Rock. We headed towards it, thinking it was a breach. 

We didn't see any spouts, so we continued north towards a large group of birds feeding on Four Fathom Banks. The birds were diving on the tide line; the group was mostly composed of western gulls and common murres, with a few Brandt's cormorants nearby. 

Birds feeding on the tide line.

Birds feeding on the tide line.

We found a spout nearby and followed it to a humpback whale feeding in 30 feet of water. We followed the whale through the Potato Patch. 

Common murres.

Common murres.

We didn't see any fluke dives due to the shallow water. The whale surfaced twice into large groups of birds. At one point it rolled onto its side and we saw the pectoral fin and one lobe of the fluke. 

Whale surfacing in a large group of birds.

Whale surfacing in a large group of birds.

We saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoises and passed a western gull with a bullhead in its beak on our way back in. 

All whale sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic and to NOAA using the Whale Alert app. 

Sightings from 11am trip.

Sightings from 11am trip.

***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: July 11, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

The wind seemed to be picking up as we prepared to board the Kitty Kat, and I was a little worried about conditions in the strait. Luckily we barely made it out of our slip when first mate Josh spotted a whale. We slowly approached the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, humpbacks fluking on both sides of us and in front of us. One of whales near Fort Point did a couple of quick fin slaps before disappearing into very shallow water (somewhere between 50 and 60 feet). There was a lot of boat traffic, and several whale watchers expressed concerns about how fast other boats in the area were going. The whales were spread all the way underneath the bridge. We counted at least six inside the bay, with more spouts beyond the Golden Gate.

Our speed in neutral was 1.1 knots, indicating the speed of the current.

Our speed in neutral was 1.1 knots, indicating the speed of the current.

We also noted harbor seals and harbor porpoises on this trip. As we headed back into port, we saw some Royal Terns feeding with the usual Caspian Terns, Common Murres, and Western Gulls.

5pm: 

On my second trip of the day the whales were right where we left them. There were still at least six feeding inside the bay and many spouts farther away. We floated with the current as two humpbacks I suspected were a mother and calf pair spouted and dove together near the south tower of the bridge. A huge container ship passed through the Golden Gate to the north of us, and we saw decreased activity in that direction as whales started surfacing within 100 yards of our stern. There was a high concentration of kite boarders in the area, and a whale surfaced less than 40 yards from one of them. 

The whale's back is out of the water; the wind is quickly blowing the spout across the surface of the water. A large fuel ship passes under the bridge in the background.

The whale's back is out of the water; the wind is quickly blowing the spout across the surface of the water. A large fuel ship passes under the bridge in the background.

Near the beginning of the trip, I spotted three bright green balloons floating in the water. I notified the captain and we went into rescue mode. Our first mate Josh got out our large net and positioned himself on the starboard bow. The wind made it tricky, but with patience and teamwork we were able to remove two of the balloons. We lost sight of the last one and unfortunately did not see it again. The retrieved pieces were balloon swords commonly made at Pier 39; whales, seals, porpoises, and dozens of seabirds were in the area. Plastic in the ocean is a huge problem for wildlife, and it is our responsibility to remove it. The problem is so bad that we're even finding plastic in the sea salt we use for cooking! Find out more about reducing plastic in our oceans with Project Kaisei.

Happy to at least have retrieved 2 of the 3 balloons!

Happy to at least have retrieved 2 of the 3 balloons!

We had harbor porpoise and harbor seal sightings on this trip, as well as sightings of northern anchovies clasped in the beaks of birds. The captain noted the sonar was picking up readings of a large concentration of feed underneath the boat.

All sightings were reported on Whale Alert and over the radio to the Coast Guard. Below are photos from passenger James Mancusi. 

***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!***