shipping lane

Sightings: 9/27/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am: 

On our first trip of the day we found two humpbacks feeding in 100 feet of water. These whales were just outside the shipping lane. 

The first whale we spotted we identified as Gator, one of the frequently sighted whales in this area. We got a good look at Gator’s fluke and dorsal fin. 

We then approached the other whale, which was feeding and moving offshore. There were birds hovering over the whale and a few porpoises in the area, with lots of anchovies on the fish finder. 

We spent about 45 minutes with these animals before heading back underneath the Golden Gate. 

2pm: 

On our next trip we went along the south side of the Golden Gate Strait before heading towards the shipping lane. We had not gone far outside the strait when we spotted a spout. The humpback whale was feeding, and we saw some fluke dives from the animal as well as one roll feed. 

Multiple ships passed by us over the course of the trip, so we gave the whale lots of space to maneuver near them. 

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We were in 70 feet of water with tons of anchovies. The whale slowly moved west over the course of the trip. 

Sightings: 9/22/19

Sightings from Tamalpais Charters vessel Tamalpais

On this trip with Tamalpais Charters we headed west underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, spotting harbor porpoises and some California sea lions. There was a lot of bird activity in the Golden Gate Strait. We spotted elegant terns, common murres, brown pelicans, western, California,  and Heerman’s gulls. 

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We headed out west towards the north bar. On our way we stopped to look at a young mola mola (ocean sunfish). There were tons of porpoises in this area as well. 

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As we headed farther west, we spotted a couple of spouts on the horizon. We ended up with a whale on either side of us and were able to spot one fluke dive. 

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We approached the other of the two whales, whose dorsal fin I recognized as a whale named Akula. 

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Akula appeared to be resting. She swam in large circles, surfacing every few minutes. At one point she approached the boat within 50 yards. 

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After spending about 40 minutes with these whales we started our journey back to Tiburon, spotting a couple of parasitic jaegers and several types of cormorants along the way. 

Sightings: 9/15/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we were surprised with good visibility and calm sea conditions. We found two humpback whales feeding near the middle of the shipping lane.

The closer whale was moving around quite a bit, seemingly looking for food. Eventually it found a good spot and we started to see birds hovering over the whale, grabbing at anchovies.

The whale was in only 50 feet of water. We stayed with the animal for about 40 minutes.

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We also saw California sea lions resting on the shipping lane buoy.

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12pm:

On our second trip we found two more humpback whales much closer to shore, although still near the middle of the shipping lane.

These whales moved around quite a bit, but we did see hovering birds, indicating some feeding activity. We identified Gator from the flukes of one whale. Gator has been seen in this area many times.

3pm:

On our final trip we found two humpback whales in almost the same location. We were seeing coordinated dives from these two individuals, who seemed to be moving in large circles.

We saw a fluke dive from one of the animals. I did not recognize the fluke, but it was definitely a different whale than the previous trip.

We also had some roll feeding from one of the whales on this trip. Birds hovering over the whales indicated feeding activity as well.

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Sightings: 9/13/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On the first trip of the day we headed out west in sunny, beautiful conditions. As we were heading out, a crew member spotted a tall dorsal fin back behind us. We slowed down and were able to relocate a minke whale.

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The minke surfaced several times near us, usually taking a few breaths and then going down for a deeper dive. There was also a huge group of sooty shearwaters in the area.

After watching the minke for a few minutes, we headed farther west and found two humpback whales near the entrance to the shipping lane.

The whales were displaying a variety of feeding behaviors, including lunge feeding, roll feeding, and fluke dives.

There was another whale farther out in the shipping lane as well. We saw a barge pass by us. Several small fishing boats were also working in the area.

The whales slowly moved east over the course of the trip.

We saw lots of bird activity in the area, including several brown pelicans.

A baby harbor seal popped up right in front of us at one point!

2pm:

On our second trip, we found whales again near the beginning of the shipping lane. There were three feeding whales within a thousand yards of us; all three were within the shipping lane.

The shipping lane was extremely busy, with several inbound and outbound ships passing by us over the course of the trip.

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Over the course of the trip, the three whales came together near the south side of the shipping lane.

The whales were feeding close by to the ships. We saw lunge feeding, roll feeding, and some coordinated behaviors. One whale rolled onto its side to feed over and over again for the entire trip.

We saw one fluke dive over the course of this trip.

We kept a distance from the whales while the large ships were present. Several of the ships slowed down as they passed by the whales.

Sightings: 8/23/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm:

On this trip we headed out into foggy conditions and found one humpback whale near the shipping lane. We were able to identify this whale as Akula.

We didn’t see any flukes from Akula, but we were able to identify her from her dorsal fin.

Akula was moving south over the course of the trip. She kept her distance from the boat.

We also saw some sea lions on the shipping lane buoys.

Sightings: 8/22/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

On this trip we found one humpback out past the pilot station feeding in 94 feet of water. It had been extremely foggy all the way until we were 12 miles offshore, when it finally started to open up.

The whale was traveling, so each time we spotted the whale it had moved farther west.

However, we did get to see two full breaches where the whale’s whole body came out of the water. These breaches were followed by a fluke dive which will allow us to identify this animal.

We also saw large groups of sooty shearwaters on our way in.

2pm:
On our next trip we were several miles west of the shipping lane when we found two humpback whales.

Although these whales took a long time to find, we were treated with a close approach where the whales came within 20 yards of our boat before fluke diving.

These whales were in 108 feet of water.

Sightings: 8/21/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

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.

2pm:

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.

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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: 8/18/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

For our first trip we headed 15 miles west, past the shipping lane. We had wet conditions on the way out due to a coastal southerly wind.

Once out there we spotted two humpback whales; one was closer to us, while the other was farther off. We paralleled the closer whale for several minutes as it travelled.

The whale was not feeding. No food appeared to be present in the area.

There was some shipping activity in the lane. We spotted some big splashes from the farther whale, suggesting that it was breaching.

12pm:

The whales were a little bit closer on our second trip, although the southerly had increased and the way out was very wet. We found three humpbacks in about 85 feet of water.

One of the whales was closer to us with a small spout. We observed this animal for several minutes before sighting the other two on the other side of the shipping lane.

We saw some fluke dives from these animals. We had anchovies on the fish finder and birds in the area, suggesting that there was food.

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We saw some inbound container ships. The two far whales swam directly in front of the ship before safely popping up behind it. Then they swam across our bow.

3pm:

By the final trip of the day, the conditions had improved and it was less wet than the previous trips. We returned to the same area, where we found three humpbacks in 107 feet of water.

The humpbacks were feeding, but moved around quite a bit as they did so.

One of the whales did a close approach on the stern of our vessel. As it came closer, we were able to identify this whale as Akula. This was the third time we had seen Akula this week.

We spent about 35 minutes with these animals before heading back to the dock.

Sightings: 8/17/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

9am:

On our first trip of the day we found humpbacks whales about 14 miles offshore, close to the pilot station. There were nine whales in the area feeding in 100 feet of water.

We saw fluke dives from these animals, as well as lunge feeding. There was one coordinated lunge feed with two whales.

The whales in the area moved around a lot. Different groups were constantly moving apart and coming together.

There were birds hovering over the whales and anchovies on the fish finder. We stayed with the whales for about 30 minutes.

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12pm:

On our next trip we found the whales several miles east of the previous location. The whales were near buoys 1 and 2, directly in the shipping lane.

There were four humpbacks feeding in 60 feet of water.

We saw fluke dives and some coordinated lunge feeding from these whales. Large ships and the pilot boat were nearby.

There were lots of birds in the area, particularly shearwaters. The birds were flushed from the surface of the water by the whales several times.

We stayed with these animals for about 45 minutes. There were another 2-3 spouts in the distance as well.

3pm:

On our final trip of the day we found one whale in almost the exact same spot, directly in the shipping lane.

After seeing a few spouts and getting a good look at the dorsal fin, we identified the whale as Akula - a frequent visitor to this area.

Akula wasn’t fluke diving, but after a few minutes she began tail slapping, allowing us to get a good look at the orca tooth rakes on her fluke.

There were anchovies on the fish finder and birds hovering over Akula, so it is likely she was feeding. We stayed with Akula for about 40 minutes.

There were ships present over the course of the trip. We also saw a large sunfish come down the side of our boat.

There were California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys as well.

Sightings: 8/16/19

Sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

11am:

On our first trip of the day we headed far out west, past the shipping lane. We ended up about 15 miles offshore. There we found five humpbacks feeding in 150 feet of water. The water color was a dark purple-brown color, suggesting that the whales might have been feeding on krill.

We saw lots of interesting behaviors from these animals, including lots of feeding behavior. We saw lunge feeding, fluke dives, and some coordinated behavior from two of the animals.

The whales were spread out except for two who continually surfaced together.

There were birds hovering over the whales as they fed. We also saw a couple of breaches.

We could see fish in the water during the trip, including a mola mola.

We had excellent conditions. It was sunny with no wind and only a little bit of swell. We stayed with the whales for about half an hour.

2pm:

On our next trip we found two humpbacks feeding a few miles east of their earlier spot in 166 feet of water.

We saw more coordinated activity from these two whales, including a couple of double lunge feeds. We also got fluke dives from these animals.

As we floated in neutral, one of the whales approached within 50 yards of our vessel. It swam around our stern, then rejoined the other whale 150 yards west of us.

When they reunited, one of the whales began breaching. It did full breaches twice, followed by 2-3 chin slaps. Some of the chin slaps were almost like half-breaches.

We spotted some water draining from the whale’s baleen during the chin slaps. Sometimes the whales open their mouths when excited, so it might have been draining out water that got in during the excitement.

The whales in this area were definitely feeding on anchovies. We spotted a few bait balls in the area. We also had lots of shearwaters present - both sooty and pink-footed.

We also saw a huge mola mola on this trip.