san francisco whale tours

Sightings Report: May 4, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

8am: 

Right as we started heading out on our first trip, we heard reports on the radio of whales two miles past Point Bonita. Just outside the bridge the water was glassy. There was no strong wind or swell, but a strong incoming tide meant that it was still a little choppy. 

Just past Point Bonita we saw our first spouts. We continued past the whales at a safe distance, then turned to have the swell and tide at our backs. 

We had 9 whales in the area, with three groups of two and three single individuals. 

Huge groups of birds gathered above the whales. One group south of us tail slapped a few times. 

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Most of the whales stayed in pretty much the same spot the whole trip. Most of them were between us and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Some of them moved towards the northern shipping lane. 

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There were many harbor seals and harbor porpoises all around as well. 

11am: 

For this trip we returned to Point Bonita. The weather had not changed, and the whales were still feeding in the same spot. 

We floated in 150 feet of water watching one group of three whales. They seemed for the most part to be separated into a pair and an individual, surfacing separately but in synchrony. 

Near the end of the trip, we saw all three whales surface together, almost touching each other. With this we were able to identify Topspot and Gator and the unnamed individual they have been travelling with.

On our way in we saw a California sea lion killing a striped bass. We also spotted harbor porpoises and harbor seals, including one who looked very small and young. 

Sightings Report: May 3, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am: 

On this first trip of the morning we headed up the south side of the Golden Gate Strait. On our way through we spotted spouts near Diablo Cove. 

There were four whales in total, three of which were the same as the previous day. Two of those were Gator and Topspot.

It was cold and foggy, and a few big container ships passed by us. The whales stayed in roughly the same spot for the entire trip. 

We also saw huge groups of cormorants and gulls on the water outside the bridge. 

Sightings Report: May 2, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

We started off the day in the same place we found the whales the previous morning. Sure enough, we found humpback whales in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait near Point Bonita. 

Initially I saw one spout, but soon I was seeing four spouts. A few more minutes passed and suddenly I was counting nine spouts from Point Bonita back in to the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A powerful tide pulled us in, and we experienced large swell. We saw very few flukes from the whales. Two of them were the same pair we had been seeing all week - Gator and Topspot. They continued to surface near us. 

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One whale surfaced within 100 yards of us. This whale breached once, then fluked a couple of times. It was spouting once every 1-2 minutes. 

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We saw lots of harbor seals and California sea lions in the strait as well. One of them had caught a fish and had large groups of birds overhead. 

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On our way in, we spotted a spout by Yerba Buena Island. We moved slowly towards our dock. Suddenly a gray whale surfaced about 100 yards away from our boat, then disappeared. The whale continued travelling west. 

11am: 

The wind picked up for the next trip. We found 3 of the same whales we had been watching earlier near Diablo Cove. 

A few huge container ships passed by. We kept a conservative distance so that the whales and the ships both had plenty of room to maneuver around each other. 

There were huge numbers of birds, harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. 

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We followed the whales at a distance as they slowly moved west. 

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. 

Sightings Report: October 14, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallon Islands trip: 

We headed west towards the Farallon Islands in moderate swell and wind, both from the northwest. We found one humpback on our way out feeding under a huge group of gulls, common murres, and sooty shearwaters. 

Huge group of birds hovering over a bait ball.

Huge group of birds hovering over a bait ball.

We saw a few lunge feeds from the whale, but few fluke dives. It was feeding in 136 feet of water.

Humpback whale.

Humpback whale.

After a few minutes, we pressed on towards the islands. The captain spotted the blue-footed booby resting on Sugarloaf, along with many juvenile and adult brown pelicans. There were lots of California sea lions in the water and on the rocks, along with a few fur seals. 

The water was full of moon jellies as we progressed towards Mirounga Bay. The shark diving boat was present, but reported no sharks so far that day. 

We decided to use the good weather to continue on towards the continental shelf, passing the west side of the islands. Boats fishing for rockfish started to appear between the swells. 

I spotted a spout 500 yards away, but then discovered something closer to us: a pod of Risso's dolphins moving towards the Farallons. They were slapping their tails, jumping out of the water, and moving quickly southeast. 

Ahead of us were several spouts. Two humpbacks swam side by side a few hundred yards from us, and a few other groups of 2-3 humpbacks were visible.

As we continued we saw two blue whales and more humpbacks spouting ahead. 

The light-gray back of a blue whale.

The light-gray back of a blue whale.

When we finally had to turn around and head back towards the islands, we had another sighting of the Risso's dolphins before heading east. We watched the humpbacks from our stern until they were out of sight. 

3pm: 

On our 3:00 trip, we found a single humpback whale northwest of the shipping lane. It was showing its fluke and did a few lunge feeds.

A few birds were present hovering over the whale. It was feeding in 76 feet of water. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We also spotted harbor porpoises on our way out. 

All sightings west of the Farallons 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: October 9, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours Vessel Happy Days

This trip happened on the first day of fires in Santa Rosa. The air was full of smoke and visibility was poor even several nautical miles offshore. 

The swell was around 8 feet. We headed to the spot where the whales were the previous day and found nothing. We made a big circle, heading south, and still found nothing. As we were getting ready to turn east, I spotted a spout behind us. It was very difficult to see next to the smoke. 

We approached slowly and found we were with two humpbacks in 120 feet of water. We saw a few fluke dives from them; several were quite close to the boat. 

Fluke dive. 

Fluke dive. 

One of the humpbacks had a large scar from a boat propeller on its back. It was completely healed and didn't seem to be affecting the whale's behavior. 

We also spotted sooty shearwaters and a mola mola in this spot. 

The edge of a humpback fluke.

The edge of a humpback fluke.

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: October 5, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

As we headed out of the bay and into the Golden Gate Strait, we experienced rapidly diminishing visibility due to thick fog. The previous day's trip had found a whale inside San Francisco Bay, so we were on the lookout for a humpback close to shore. There was a lot of bird and harbor porpoise activity in the strait. 

We headed into the fog with good sea conditions but a visibility of 100-400 yards. At one point we spotted a mola mola (ocean sunfish) floating near the water's surface. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

Brown pelicans gliding through the fog. 

We found one whale between buoys 2 and 4. The fog was thick, so when the humpback did a deeper dive we were unable to reacquire it right away. We did a large circle and relocated the whale in the same spot we had left it. We put the boat in neutral and it approached us to 50 yards before fluking. The humpback's dorsal fin was unusual with a big slice down the middle of it. 

We were unable to reacquire the whale. We looked for it as we headed back the way we came, noting the California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

Sea lions resting on shipping lane buoy #2. 

We ducked into Diablo Cove to take a look at the harbor seals and watch some of the planes practicing for Fleet Week before we headed back to port. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

Harbor seals resting on the rocks in Diablo Cove. 

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: October 3, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

On this trip we started to make our way out past the shipping lane where the whales had been spotted all week. However, we barely made it to the start of the lane when I found a spout. 

California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy.

California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy.

It was a single humpback feeding near shipping lane buoys 7 and 8. We saw no fluke dives from this whale. After a while we spotted another humpback feeding some distance away. The two whales continued to dive south of the shipping lane. 

After we had floated with the whales for a while, we turned around and headed towards Diablo Cove to check out the harbor seals. 

On our way back  into the bay, I spotted a pair of bottlenose dolphins, potentially a mother and calf pair. There were also some harbor porpoises nearby. 

Coast Guard planes engaged in training maneuvers.  

Coast Guard planes engaged in training maneuvers.  

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: October 2, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The beginning of October marked a switch to a single 5 hour trip every day. This gave us lots of time to find and enjoy the whales. 

We found humpbacks in the same place we'd been seeing them all week. It was 12-13 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, close to the pilot boat at the end of the shipping lane. Three whales surfaced near the pilot boat, who alerted us to their presence. 

We saw many fluke dives from these whales, who were being trailed by dozens of common murres and brown pelicans. 

We were able to float with these whales for about 45 minutes. Then we slowly made our way southeast. We hadn't reached the shipping lane yet when we found two more humpbacks spouting together - potentially a mother and calf. 

We ducked into Diablo Cove to enjoy at least a dozen harbor seals and picked up a balloon floating nearby.

Inside the bay we spotted harbor seals, California sea lions, and harbor porpoises. 

Black oystercatcher (right) and a juvenile cormorant.

Black oystercatcher (right) and a juvenile cormorant.

Sightings near the shipping lane 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 30, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

We made our way offshore for this trip against 30 knots of wind and a large northwestern swell between 8-10 feet. It was rough water, but we knew from reports that the whales were 14 miles out, just north of the shipping lane. 

Humpback about to tail slap.

Humpback about to tail slap.

When we arrived, we found one humpback. The whale slapped its tail several times, then breached over and over again. We positioned ourselves with the whale and the swell at our stern as it continued to breach 200 yards away. 

Another powerful tail slap.

Another powerful tail slap.

We were also able to sight harbor porpoises on this trip, as well as California sea lions from the shipping lane buoys. 

The sighting was 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!