ship strike

Sightings Report: July 17, 2019

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we had beautiful sea conditions and excellent visibility with very little wind. We headed out past the shipping lane, where we found 5 humpback whales feeding.

The whales were in about 82 feet of water. 4 of them stayed within a few yards of each other for most of the time we observed them.

One of the whales had a propeller scar across its back. We identified her as the famous “Prop Mama.” She’s an older female who has had several calves, one of whom was killed by orcas a few years ago in Monterey. She is a repeat visitor to this area.

We saw lunge feeds from these animals as well as lots of fluke dives. We were also able to smell whale breath several times.

We also saw one whale roll on its side and slap its pectoral fin on the water multiple times. There were also a few tail slaps.

Near the end of the trip, three of the whales stuck together while one headed off in the direction of some small fishing boats.

We saw birds, porpoises, and sea nettles in the area as well. We were able to spend about 45 minutes with these animals.


On our next trip we headed out through the shipping lane, again experiencing excellent conditions. However, near the end of the shipping lane we hit a huge bank of fog with less than a quarter mile of visibility.

We moved slowly through the area as we started to see huge bait balls of anchovies.

Even though the fog was dense, we found a humpback whale.


We saw a couple of lunge feeds from the animal, as well as some shallow fluke dives. The whale ended up swimming around the boat about 50 yards from us. It was in about 100 feet of water.

A huge school of anchovies passed directly underneath our boat.


We saw some container ships moving through the fog in this area. When we started our trip home, the dense fog had moved east all the way to San Francisco Bay, meaning that it had crept about 10 miles east while we were watching the whale.


We also saw some common murres with chicks in this area.

Sightings Report: March 10, 2019

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

Warning: This post contains a dead whale in the final picture sequence.

We embarked on our gray whale watching trip at 9am with sunshine and a chilly wind. We had only been underway for a few minutes when the first whale was spotted. It was a gray whale near the southeast tip of Angel Island. We saw a couple of spouts before it headed east towards Oakland.


We continued on towards Raccoon Strait, where there had been reports of whales earlier. I spotted a spout close to shore near Tiburon Harbor. We approached slowly and found a gray whale hanging out close to shore.

This whale had lots of sea lice, especially around its blowhole. We were able to view both sides of the whale before heading back east to locate different animals.

We spotted several harbor seals and California sea lions.


Eventually we spotted another spout on the eastern side of Tiburon. We saw this whale come up a couple of times. There was another spout closer to the Richmond Bridge as well.

We made our way back around the north side of Angel Island when we spotted a whale floating in the water. As we approached, we realized it was not moving. It was a gray whale carcass.

The carcass was relatively fresh, although gaseous buildup had begun. We documented and reported the event and the Army Corps of Engineers towed the whale to Angel Island for necropsy by the team at Cal Academy of Sciences.

The team determined that the cause of death for this year old 23 foot female was malnutrition. The next day another year old female was found near the Bay Bridge. The cause of death for that whale was likely a ship strike.

Read more about these two whales here.

Sightings Report: June 13, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


On our first trip, we found the humpback Akula near Yellow Bluff, inside the Golden Gate Bridge. A lot of birds circled above, indicating feeding. Akula was spouting 4-5 times followed by a deep fluke dive. 

Akula slowly moved out towards the central bay. A small eastbound boat with an outboard motor was headed towards the whale at about 8 knots. The whale was in the middle of a dive sequence, and so it was staying in pretty much the same spot every time it surfaced. It surfaced twice before it was hit by the small boat. 

The whale made a jerky motion and threw one of it's pectoral fins in the air before disappearing. The boat did not stop.

After a long dive, Akula surfaced again closer to Cavallo Point. Several more small boats sped past him. We saw several more normal dives before we had to return to port. 

The strike has been reported to NOAA.



On our 5pm trip we headed first to Diablo Cove, where we spotted several harbor seals. 


We continued out to Point Bonita, where the weather was a little rough. We started heading east when the captain spotted a whale by Mile Rock. 

We positioned ourselves above the whale and were pushed "downhill" while watching it. A large group of birds hovered over the whale. 

All sightings reported to Vessel Traffic.

Special Sighting: Bolinas Beached Whale

Content warning: dead and decaying whale

Sighting from August 31, 2017

In May, a 79 foot blue whale washed up on Agate Beach in Bolinas. The Marine Mammal Center performed the necropsy and concluded that the whale had suffered trauma to her skull, a fractured spine, and broken ribs, suggesting that she was hit by a container ship. 

Even though parts of the body have decayed or been collected by researchers, some of the whale is still on Agate Beach. There is a large amount of skin, including the pleated grooves on the throat. There are a few bones, most notably a single vertebra. We also found baleen. 

There are around 2800 blue whales who feed near our continental shelf in the summer. They are endangered, and as such it is illegal to take any part of their body. It is also illegal to harass or disturb a beached whale, whether it is alive or not. It is always important to be respectful of the creatures. 

Ship strikes are a huge problem for whales near San Francisco. The San Francisco shipping lane is one of the top two deadliest spots on the west coast for whales. 

We journeyed on to Point Reyes for the afternoon, where we spotted some intertidal creatures, birds, and tule elk. 

A huge thank you to friends Goni and Caroline for contributing photos and being ready for adventure!

Days off 🙌

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