sea lion

Sightings: 8/21/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we found the whales close to buoys 7 and 8, right at the beginning of the ship channel. There were three humpback whales feeding in 55 feet of water.

The whales moved around and frequently doubled back, moving to both sides of the shipping lane. For the most part they stayed close together. We even saw one triple lunge feed where the whales were nearly touching each other.

We also saw other evidence of feeding, including fluke dives, single lunge feeds, and birds hovering over the whales.

Ships passed by us over the course of the trip. At first we delayed our approach across the shipping lane because of a large inbound container ship. We were able to alert vessel traffic to the presence of the whales and the ship slowed down.

At one point one whale came within 15 yards of our boat. This whale was separate from the group of three that we were watching. This whale appeared to be traveling; after its close approach, we spotted it again several hundred yards north of us.

Over the course of the trip the whales moved just over a mile east. These were some of the closest whales to shore that we’d seen in a while.

We also spotted sea lions on the shipping lane buoys. At one point the whales approached them as well.

We spent about 50 minutes with these animals.


On our next trip we headed back out in the same area and found three humpbacks seven miles from our dock. Conditions had deteriorated since our previous trip, and the waves were steep with a short period.

One of the whales tail slapped for almost the entire trip. The whale changed locations, but continued to slap dozens of times.

We also saw several breaches from this animal.

The other two whales stuck together and we saw coordinated diving behaviors from them.

There was a ton of porpoise, bird, and sea lion activity in the area.


Near the end of the trip, we saw a sea lion eating what appeared to be a large salmon.

The whales were in about 63 feet of water and we stayed with them for 40 minutes.

Sightings Report: May 14, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


We had beautiful weather on this trip. The seas were flat and visibility was excellent - we were able to see the Farallon Islands in the distance. There was a slight southerly wind, so we decided to head south towards Pacifica.


We found two whales northwest of the Pacifica Pier, several miles offshore. One of the whales was a humpback and the other was a gray whale. It is unusual to see humpbacks and grays traveling so close together.

The two whales appeared to be traveling together. They were surfacing together every 3-5 minutes.

The humpback surfaced and fluked more frequently than the gray whale. A group of birds followed the whales.

After nearly twenty minutes of traveling together the whales had moved half a mile north of where we found them. At this point the humpback started feeding and the gray whale headed east towards the beach.


We stayed with the humpback for a few more minutes, spotting lots of sea lions and porpoises in the area as well.

Sightings Report: April 26, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we expected wind all day. We headed towards the east side of Angel Island, where we found a gray whale.

We floated for a while while the gray whale continued to surface in the same area. It looked like an adult.

Eventually the whale appeared to move towards Tiburon.

We also saw harbor porpoises in this area.

As we approached Pier 39, we saw a raft of sea lions swimming away from the Pier.


We found the same gray whale on this trip that we’d seen on the 8am. The whale was still hanging out east of Angel Island.


We saw the whale surface a few times as the passenger ferries passed by us.


On our final trip of the day, we were just leaving the dock when I saw a spout behind us close to Fisherman’s Wharf. We followed the gray whale as it headed towards the sailing practice being held by the Sailing Grand Prix.

The whale was spouting just once at a time and coming up every five minutes. It was windy, so the spouts were blown down quickly.

There was a lot of traffic, including the Sailing GP practice, container ships, passenger ferries, and day sailors.


We continued around Alcatraz towards Angel Island, looking for the whale we’d seen earlier. We were unable to locate it before we headed back to the dock.

Sightings Report: March 26, 2019

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we headed out with a few reports of gray whales in San Francisco Bay. It was only a few minutes before we found the first spout, just east of our harbor.


The whale was surfacing every few minutes in the ferry lane.


After watching this whale for a while, we continued west and found another whale near Crissy field. This whale was very close to the shore. Neither animal showed its flukes.


On our next trip, we started off west and immediately found a gray whale near Fort Mason. The whale came very close to the shore, swimming in about 30 feet of water.

At one point a whale approached our boat within 100 yards.

We eventually found another whale near Fort Mason, but farther from the shore. We also saw spouts near Crissy Field.


On this trip e headed back towards the spot where we’d left whales on our previous trip. We found one near St. Francis Yacht Club.

While we were enjoying this whale, a young sea lion came up to our boat and swam around it for ten minutes. It leaped in to the air and darted around us, staying within a few feet of the boat.

The whale moved around the Aquatic Park, slowly making its way west.

Eventually we lost it. We thought near the end we saw spouts just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, so we headed that way to try to get one last look. Near the bridge we saw harbor seals, porpoises, tons of bird activity, and a lot of anchovies on our fish finder.

Sightings Report: July 21, 2018

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On this trip we went 13 miles offshore, past the last shipping lane buoys. There we found two pairs of humpbacks feeding. 

We saw several lunge feeds from these whales, as well as some fluke dives. 

There was one whale breaching in the distance. Another 7-8 miles from us there were tons of spouts, many of them very large. 


There was lots of bird and porpoise activity in this area. 

The water was very flat and calm. A container ship passed by in the distance. 



On our next trip the water was even calmer than the previous trip. We went straight west through the shipping lane and found one of the pairs that we had seen on the previous trip. They had moved south while we were away. 

There were a few fluke dives from these animals. We saw more spouts farther away. 

We also spotted California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoys and common murres with chicks in the water. 


Sightings Report: July 18, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


On this trip we headed 11 miles offshore, out into the shipping lane. We were unable to locate any whales, but spotted some California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy. 


On this trip we headed north first, then started west. Once we were over 12 miles from home we saw two minke whales. They each surfaced twice before they were gone again. SFWT photographer Joey got this shot of a minke before it disappeared. Find more of Joey's photos here.


The water was calm and flat on this trip. 

Sightings Report: June 5, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip we headed out past the Golden Gate Bridge into the Golden Gate Strait. Near Mile Rock we spotted at least ten spouts. 

We slowly approached, stopping 200 yards away. The wind and swell slowly pushed us towards the whales and we saw a few flukes around 100 yards. 

One whale breached only 50 yards from the boat.


It then swam farther north and breached again. 

There was one group of at least five whales surfacing together, as well as several individuals in the same area. A large group of birds hovered in the area as well. 


Over the course of the trip the whales slowly moved east. We also spotted some California sea lions and harbor seals. 


The wind picked up significantly for the next trip. We found a single humpback in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait. 

The whale approached within 100 yards of our boat. Due to wind and swell, we lost sight of the whale before relocating near Point Bonita. 

As we watched the whale near Point Bonita we spotted a few more spouts to the east of us. The whales were surfacing in groups. 

We spotted a California sea lion with a striped bass, as well as many harbor seals. 

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 1, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


On our first trip, we went around Angel Island and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was a large group of cormorants and gulls in the Golden Gate Strait. 


We started towards Diablo Cove, the incoming tide causing some rough water. Then I spotted a spout 500 yards southwest of Diablo. 

There were two humpbacks in the middle of the strait. As we slowly approached, we saw another whale close to Mile Rock. 

We stuck with the two swimming together. They were slowly heading east. 

One of the whales, later identified as Gator, was arching its back on every dive, making its spiky knuckles extra visible. Gator's companion, Topspot, did not do this. They occasionally would dive in synchrony. 

On our way back to port, we saw California sea lions feeding on a fish surrounded by a big cloud of birds. 


On the next trip we headed back out to where we'd left the whales. We saw tons of harbor porpoises in the central bay surfing the waves created by the strong incoming tide. 


We also spotted a few harbor seals as we approached the bridge. As we got closer, we spotted the humpback spouts. It was the same two whales as the previous trip. 

The two whales were headed east towards Angel Island. We paused at the bridge to search for other whales in the strait, but eventually decided to head back towards the three humpback whales in the bay.

We saw one spouting by Point Blunt and the other two closer to Alcatraz. 

As we floated in the central bay, we saw a sea lion catch and kill a striped bass while hungry birds hovered overhead. 


On the 2pm trip we found the same three humpback whales feeding near Cavallo Point. They were slowly making their way back out to the bridge. 

Large clouds of birds hovered above them. The group of cormorants and gulls had moved inward to rest near Cavallo Point with the whales. 


We saw the wind picking up, making it more difficult to spot the spouts. We saw harbor porpoises, sea lions, and harbor seals as we floated near the bridge. 

Sightings Report: November 19, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The weather was beautiful for this trip out to the Farallon Islands. We had a very light easterly wind, calm seas, and sunshine. We spotted harbor seals and California sea lions on our way out.

We found our first whales north of the shipping lane. There were two humpbacks feeding with a large group of birds circling over them.

It was a mother-calf pair that has been sighted many times before in this area. The mother has a large propeller scar on her back, and the calf seems to have some kind of skin condition, making them easily recognizable.

A close look at the whale's body shows a propeller scar just before the dorsal fin. 

A close look at the whale's body shows a propeller scar just before the dorsal fin. 

We didn't stay with them long, since we wanted to make it out to the islands. At one point we slowed down to take a look at the bright orange Pacific sea nettles drifting underneath us.

Once we got to the Farallons, we saw another humpback whale spout briefly near Fisherman's Bay. We were unable to relocate it, so we ducked into the bay to get a close look at the California sea lions resting on the rocks and playing in the water. They were very noisy. 

Many common murres were perched on the cliffs above us. We saw a large group of surf scoters fly past us, and one male/female surf scoter pair in the water.

Surf scoter male and female pair.

Surf scoter male and female pair.

We headed around towards Mirounga Bay, noting moon jellies in the water. The visibility was great and we could clearly see the bottom. Near Maintop island we spotted more sea lions and Northern fur seals. 

We also saw a group of eared grebes.

Eared grebes.

Eared grebes.

Since there was no wind from the northwest, we traveled around the northwestern side of the islands before heading back home. On our way back we spotted many huge groups of birds, but no more whales. 

Bird activity. 

Bird activity.