san francicso whale tours

Sightings Report: May 7, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

On the first trip we decided to head around Angel Island before heading out towards the Golden Gate Strait. As we made our way through Raccoon Straits, we found a Gray whale swimming north towards Richmond. 

We saw a few spouts from this whale, then decided to head out to try to find some humpbacks. 

We ended up finding 5-6 humpbacks in the strait, with a group of 4-5 moving in. 

One whale started breaching near the Golden Gate Bridge. We watched as the whale slowly moved west, breaching continuously. We also saw the whale slapping its pectoral fin as it rolled over. 

Eventually the same whale had moved to start breaching all the way past Mile Rock.

From the other group we saw sharp movements and open mouths that indicated lunge feeding, as well as a few pectoral fin slaps. 

There was a huge group of birds in the middle of the strait, mostly comprised of cormorants and gulls. 

A few large container ships passed by during this trip. We had several opportunities to smell the whale's breath. 

As we moved back towards the bridge at the end of our trip, we saw 4 humpbacks spouting and fluking in synchrony. 

There were California sea lions everywhere. One leapt fully out of the water in front of our boat. 

11am: 

When we returned at 11am, there were still many whales in the strait. There were several ships passing by, so we gave the whales plenty of space. 

We started off watching the whales from several hundred yards away. As we floated in the strait, they slowly made their way towards us. 

At one point three humpbacks surfaced 5 yards off our bow. 

The big group of birds had moved over to Diablo Cove. We saw California sea lions in the strait and ducked quickly into Diablo Cove to take a look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks. 

The whales were still lunge feeding on this trip as they slowly moved towards the north side of the strait near Diablo Cove. 

Sightings Report: September 27, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

We found whales on this trip northwest of shipping lane buoys 1 & 2. A pilot vessel floated nearby, waiting to guide incoming container ships. 

A pair of two adults surfaced together several times, doing fluke dives in synchrony. Occasionally they were lunge feeding in synchrony as well. 

Several other whales were feeding on their own in the area for a total of 5-7 humpbacks. Huge clouds of birds hovered over each whale. One whale did a single pectoral fin slap. 

The water was glassy with beautiful sunny weather. We also saw moon jellies, harbor porpoises, a harbor seal, and some California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy. 

California sea lions on a buoy.

California sea lions on a buoy.

2pm: 

We returned to the same spot for our next trip. There was a lot of traffic, with six or seven container ships passing by us over the course of the trip.

The first humpbacks we saw were past the container ships, so we waited to approach. Before we began approaching a humpback surfaced closer to us. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We were in 90 feet of water and saw many shallow dives from the whale, with very few fluke dives. At one point the whale did a side lunge feed, showing its pectoral fin. Big clouds of birds hovered over the whales. 

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On our way back in, we picked up a plastic bag from the water. 

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: July 24, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

Breach! Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

Breach! Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

We headed out into the bay with a little bit of wind, and our port side got some spray as we moved towards the bridge. Once past the bridge we spotted spouts and large splashes by Mile Rock and slowly made our way there. From 500 yards away we saw a humpback breach. We proceeded with caution, only to see another breach when 200 yards away.  We put the boat in neutral and floated over the tide line. The line was a dramatic divide between the choppy green bay water and the calmer, dark gray ocean water; once we passed over the line, it was much more comfortable! The two types of water don't mix very much because of differences in salinity (and therefore density). 

We waited a few minutes before seeing another breach. This one was close enough to see that the whale was quite small. After the breach, the humpback slapped the water with its pectoral fins for a few seconds. We saw this whale do the same behaviors again and again: a breach followed by 30-60 seconds of fin slapping. Once and a while a larger whale would surface nearby, often very close to the smaller whale. I suspect they were a mother and calf. We saw the mother's fluke a few times, but she was much less active than the calf. 

A pectoral fin poised to slap, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the Background. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

A pectoral fin poised to slap, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the Background. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

We had 3 humpbacks by Mile Rock, and noticed more spouts on the horizon. We started to slowly head back to the pier. But on our way back in, a different humpback breached 200 yards from our starboard side! This humpback also seemed small and was also with a larger, calmer adult. This calf breached 3-4 times and did a few quick pectoral fin slaps. The other calf could still be seen breaching on the horizon near Mile Rock. 

 

Humpback fluke. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

Humpback fluke. Photo by passenger Jenete Klein.

The total count for this trip was five humpbacks within 300 yards of the Kitty Kat, with 2-3 more spouts sighted within 1000 yards. We also saw harbor porpoise, California sea lions, and common murres with their chicks. 

 

 

5pm: 

When we left the dock for our last trip of the day, the wind and the fog had both picked up. We had a spout just a few hundred yards outside the bridge near Baker Beach, and we sat and watched that humpback for a few minutes as it headed east towards the south tower of the bridge. I saw more spouts out near Mile Rock, so we headed out there. 

We found three humpbacks in between Mile Rock and Point Bonita, all exhibiting feeding behaviors. Each of the three had a cloud of birds swarming around it every time it surfaced, making it easy to pinpoint where they would pop up next. We floated in neutral 200 yards away, and none of those whales chose to approach us.

There was a lot of bird activity on this trip, including Caspian terns, pelicans, cormorants, gulls, common murres with chicks, as well as a pigeon guillemot. We also spotted a juvenile black crowned night heron hanging out on the dock as we were leaving for the day. 

Juvenile black-crowned night heron at Pier 39. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Juvenile black-crowned night heron at Pier 39. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

***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!***