tufted puffin

Sightings Report: May 20, 2018

8am sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours trip on vessel Outer Limits

Heavy wind was in the forecast as we set out for the Farallon Islands on Sunday morning. We made our way out through the bay and up the north side of the strait, pausing near Diablo Cove to look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks. We also spotted some pigeon guillemots and a black oystercatcher on the rocks. 

Just beyond Diablo Cove we saw a spout. It was a humpback whale. 

The humpback was throwing flukes, occasionally coming within 100 yards of us. 

The whale seemed to be making its way in towards the bridge. We decided to leave the whale and continue on towards the islands. 

We turned north out of the strait, making our way up the coast. The section between Point Bonita and Bolinas was experiencing strong tidal action in addition to the heavy wind, so the water was rough. 

When we reached Bolinas we turned west and continued out to the islands. There were 6-8 foot wind waves. About 3 miles from the islands, we saw another spout, but we decided to continue on to the islands. There were lots of sooty shearwaters flying in this area. 

We made it to the Farallons and ducked into Fisherman's Bay. There were a couple of tufted puffins in this area.

There was a huge amount of common murres both on the rocks and in the water. Stellar's sea lions rested on the rocks. 

We made our way around the island to Mirounga Bay, were we spotted a spout. It was a smaller spout. After a few spouts we saw the body and were able to identify it as a gray whale. 

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The gray whale traveled north and we followed for a while. When we reached the western tip of the island, the water got very rough and we decided to go back on the lee side of the island.

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On our way back around we spotted some more puffins and a couple of rhinocerous auklets. 

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We left the islands and started home, hoping to find some more whales on the way back. We had barely gone a mile when we spotted a huge spout. We had two blue whales in front of us. 

The blues moved northwest and we were pushed southeast by the wind. Slowly we drifted apart. 

We continued back towards the Golden Gate. Just after we passed shipping lane buoys 7 & 8 we found a distinct tide line where the water went from blue to gray-green and got significantly rougher. 

We were 3 miles from the demarcation line when some passengers saw a breaching whale. We approached and found the whale slapping its pectoral fins on the water. 

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It then started breaching over and over again, followed by more pectoral fin slapping and some tail slapping. 

A large container ship passed by as we watched this activity. Two more humpback whales joined in, with one of them breaching. 

By the time we left the humpbacks we were almost at Mile Rock. The humpbacks were being pushed in with the tide just like we were. It pushed us all the way back to port. 

3pm sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The tide continued to come in as we headed out on our last trip of the day. We were heading through some rougher bay water when I saw a spout near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

It turned out we had three humpbacks near the bridge. Gator and Topspot were near the north tower, with a third individual near the south tower. They moved together over the course of the trip. 

We saw several lunge feeds from the whales, as well as many fluke dives. Occasionally the whales would float on their side, showing one of the lobes of the fluke. There were a lot of smaller recreational boats out whale watching.

The whales moved in over the course of the trip. We were in the central bay by the time we left the humpbacks. 

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On our way back in, I spotted a smaller spout near Alcatraz. I saw it once more a few minutes later. I suspect that it was a gray whale. 

We also saw lots of harbor porpoise surfing the current in the middle of the bay on this trip, in addition to harbor seals and sea lions. 

Sightings Report: May 13, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am Farallons Trip: 

We had just started on our Farallon Islands trip when we found a humpback whale just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw a fluke dive and decided to continue past it to increase our chances of making it to the islands. 

There was a southern wind to 10 knots forecasted, but we had pretty much no wind as we headed west. We were able to make good time and covered twenty miles quickly. At one point the captain reported a leatherback turtle, but we were unable to locate it. We did see several large Pacific Sea Nettles. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

A red necked phalarope near the Farallon Islands. 

Eight miles from the islands we started to see spouts. There was a group of five humpbacks swimming very close together, surfacing in synchrony. 

Humpback whales. 

Humpback whales. 

There were a couple of huge spouts from blue whales. At one point, a fin whale surfaced 75 yards from us. There was also a large group of common murres in this area, along with other bird species. 

Blue whale. 

Blue whale. 

One of the humpbacks came 50 yards from our boat. It seemed to be on the small side. Most of these whales were not doing fluke dives. 

We also saw a black-footed albatross gliding ahead of us and land on the water. 

We also saw a sea lion floating in the water in this area. We picked up a balloon as well. 

We continued on towards the islands. Observers at the lighthouse informed us that there were orcas near the continental shelf, so we went past the islands and continued five miles past them in search of the orcas. We saw no spouts of any kind, but there were a lot of birds in the area. 

A couple more albatrosses were flying near us. We were in 2500 feet of water, with lots of krill. I was surprised that there were absolutely no spouts. 

We slowly made our way back to the islands, coming around to Mirounga Bay and working our way east. The islands were full of sea lions, murres, cormorants and gulls. 

We saw several tufted puffins, both in the air and floating on the water. 

Eventually we started to make our way back towards the Golden Gate. On our way back we had several whale sightings from a distance. 

3pm: 

We headed out for our final trip of the day. Passengers spotted a spout underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It took a while to spout again, but when it did we were able to confirm that it was a gray whale. 

There was a huge amount of ship traffic, both inbound and outbound. 

We observed some harbor seals and harbor porpoises in this spot as well. 

Eventually we decided to continue out and find humpbacks. We found three out past Mile Rock, including some familiar flukes. Two of them were staying pretty close together. 

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The whales were near a big group of cormorants. 

Near the end of our observation period, a humpback surfaced 75 yards off our port bow and swam to our starboard stern. 

Sightings Report: April 29, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

High winds were in the forecast as we started to make our way out to the Farallon Islands. The Golden Gate Strait was especially rough due to a powerful incoming tide. 

We had just passed the Golden Gate Bridge when we saw spouts. It was a humpback in the middle of the strait. 

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We were not seeing any flukes from this whale. Another whale spouted out near Point Bonita. We also spotted a few harbor porpoises in the strait. 

We decided to continue on and attempt the islands despite the wind. We turned north towards Bolinas and slowly made our way up the coast, noting a large amount of bird activity and a rainbow off our bow. 

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Eventually we turned west, observing several sea lions resting on a channel marker. The weather started to improve. 

Eight miles from the islands we began to see big spouts. A group of 5 whales surfaced about 200 yards from our boat, spouting in synchrony. Their tall dorsal fin and huge size identified them as fin whales. 

The fins swam all around the area, sticking together for the most part. The swell was big, so we could see them surfacing on top of large waves. 

There were spouts all around us from fin whales and humpbacks, most at least 300-400 yards away. I counted at least 10 animals within 500 yards of us. We slowly continued our trek towards the islands. 

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When we first reached the islands, they were misty and gray. There were tons of common murres, gulls, pigeon guillemots, and cormorants in the air and water. 

We first headed to Mirounga Bay, observing the sea lions on the rocks and some fur seals resting on Saddle Rock. As we floated, we observed more spouts farther out towards the continental shelf. 

We saw a total of 3 tufted puffins, all flying in the air close to the islands. 

We slowly made our way around the island. As we were heading towards Fisherman's Bay, we saw a spout at our stern. We quickly put the boat in neutral and waited. Then a gray whale popped up in a huge group of gulls who had been floating on the surface.

We saw the gray within 50 yards of the boat for a few minutes before it started heading east. Then we continued on to Fisherman's Bay. 

Above Fisherman's Bay we could see thousands of nesting murres on the islands. Three Canada Geese flew by. 

Eventually we turned towards land and started back home. Five miles from the islands we saw more spouts. Initially I saw some more fin whales. Then there was a huge spout and the unmistakable light gray body of a blue whale. More whales spouted in the distance. 

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We went another five miles and found a humpback, who breached twice. We continued past it. 

We saw nothing else until we were almost back to the Golden Gate Strait. There, near Mile Rock, we found two humpbacks. They were potentially a mother and calf.

The smaller whale breached over and over again, slowly moving west. 

The larger whale surfaced a lot less often. Near the end, the smaller one also started slapping its tail and pectoral fins on the water. 

It was a fantastic finale for our trip!  

Sightings Report: September 13, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

As we headed out into the Golden Gate Strait, a thick wet mist was there to greet us. We saw lots of harbor porpoises on our way out, but I didn't expect to see any whales. That meant it was a surprise when one of our passengers reported a spout while we were passing Bonita Cove. 

Point Bonita.

Point Bonita.

Sure enough, there was a humpback whale in the middle of the strait. We hadn't seen them that close to the bay in over a week. A nearby gull had an anchovy in its beak, confirming the reason for their presence.

We watched the whale spout a few times from several hundred yards away, then started to slowly move west. As we did, another humpback surfaced 200 yards ahead of us. We waited for it to pass us as it headed east towards the other whale. Later we would get reports that another whale was about to join them. We also noted a parasitic jaeger harassing a group of elegant terns before we left the area. 

We headed straight out west through the shipping lane. The water was unusually calm, and as we progressed farther the mist dissipated a little. We saw lots of California sea lions resting on the shipping lane bouys, and a few leaping out of the water near our boat. 

We also spotted a group of 5+ sooty shearwaters, a flesh-footed shearwater, 2 Cassin's auklets, and some red-necked phalaropes in flight in the 10 miles before we reached the islands. 

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

The Farallon islands appear in the distance.

Once we reached the Farallons, we spotted 2 tufted puffins in the water near Sugarloaf just outside of Fisherman's Bay.

Tufted Puffin.

Tufted Puffin.

There were lots of common murres, gulls, and all three species of cormorants (pelagic, Brandt's, and double-crested). 

California and Steller's sea lions rested on the rocky shore. As we made our way around the islands toward Saddle Rock, we sighted some elephant seals resting in Garbage Gulch. Near Mirounga Bay there were Northern fur seals resting on the rocks. 

We also noted several species of invertebrates, including a salp, moon jellies, box jellies, and pelagic tunicates. 

The forecast warned that the wind was going to pick up dramatically in the afternoon, so we started to head back towards shore, hoping to find whales on the way in. The passengers reported a whale near shipping lane buoys 1/2, but the whale was not resighted. While we were waiting we picked up a balloon that was floating in the water. 

California sea lions on the buoy.

California sea lions on the buoy.

By the time we got back to Point Bonita, there was thick fog and a light rain. We found two humpbacks in the strait. One was moving from the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge towards Baker Beach, and the other was closer to Diablo Cove.

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

We saw a few fluke dives and some harbor porpoises before we headed in for the day. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic. 

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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 10, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: Farallon Islands Trip

We started off the day with good sea conditions and a lot of fog. We saw harbor porpoises and harbor seals on our way out. The forecast said the fog was to extend to 10 miles offshore; however, it didn't start to clear up until we reached the islands. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

Saddle Rock appearing out of the mist. 

When we were close to the Farallons, we spotted our first tufted puffin in the water near the boat. We moved over to Fisherman's Bay and spotted a juvenile yellow-billed loon in the water. 

As we made our way around the islands, we spotted lots of California and Steller sea lions on the shore and a few in the water. Some elephant seals were sighted inside Garbage Gulch. 

There were lots of drifting creatures in the water near the islands, including pelagic tunicates and moon, box, fried egg, and comb jellies. 

We headed off towards the continental shelf, hoping to find whales. We went west of the Farallons and started heading northwest. We found one whale just a few miles from the island but had reports of more whales a few miles ahead from the Oceanic Society on the Salty Lady, so we pushed onward. 

40 miles offshore we found a dozen humpbacks and 2-3 blue whales feeding in over 1000 feet of water. The ocean became a deep turquoise; our equipment said it was 63 degrees. In the photos below, the whales with dark bodies are humpbacks and the ones with light gray bodies are blue whales.

We saw flukes and spouts from the humpbacks and one fluke from a blue whale. One of the humpbacks was entangled in a buoy near the Salty Lady, who reported the whale to the Coast Guard. 

There were 2-3 black-footed albatrosses present at the shelf as well as many gulls. 

Black footed albatross.

Black footed albatross.

We left the area with a long journey home ahead of us. As we passed west of the Farallons, we spotted a lot of thrashing. As we got closer we saw it was a couple of sea lions tossing around an unidentified fish as hungry birds gathered overhead. 

We headed back down the middle of the shipping lane, where we spotted 3 mola mola, also known as ocean sunfish. We picked up a balloon nearby. 

The water as we came in was unusually glassy. The fog had cleared and we had a calm, quick ride in with no whale sightings. 

3pm: 

On our next trip we decided to go back up the shipping lane and see if we had missed any whales on our way back in. We saw a lot of bird activity, harbor porpoises, and a harbor seal as we made our way through San Francisco Bay and then the Golden Gate Strait.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

Humpback in front of pilot boat.

We ended up finding 4 humpbacks at shipping lane buoys 1/2. We saw a few fluke dives and spouts. Two different whales did tail slaps, with one slapping repeatedly. 

There was some shipping traffic coming in. We spotted California sea lions on the shipping lane buoys and red necked phalaropes in the water. 

All 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: July 29, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

Farallon Islands Trip, 8am: 

The morning was cold and foggy, but right away we started spotting sea lions and harbor porpoises in the bay. As we made our way past the Golden Gate Bridge, our captain spotted four spouts by Point Bonita. We proceeded slowly and watched humpbacks spread out over the strait do a few fluke dives. We wanted to push out to the islands while the weather was good, so we moved on from those whales sooner than we normally would have. 

Our strategy was to move north up the Marin coastline and then head out to the islands from there. We had nice weather while heading north, and saw lots of porpoises and some bird activity, mainly common murres with their chicks. Through areas where there were known whale populations, we held a speed of 10 knots.

Common murre father with chick. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Common murre father with chick. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Once we turned west the water got choppier as we headed into the swell. Once we reached the pilot station, the water deepened and the ride was a little nicer, and we sped up to 15 knots. The last seven miles to get to the islands are always the most challenging as the water goes from deep back to shallow again, but when we were only 3 miles away I spotted two spouts 500 yards south of us.

We slowed way down and gently turned south. I assumed the whales we had found were humpbacks, but once they were 250 yards away I caught a glimpse of the unmistakable body of a blue whale. 

We drifted with the two blue whales and the Oceanic Society's Salty Lady. The two blues first approached Salty Lady, then moved away from both of the boats.

Just as we started to turn away towards the islands, the two blues surfaced within 50 yards of our boat on our starboard bow and slowly dove under us before resurfacing on our port side. One of the whales seemed to be a lot bigger than the other, arousing suspicion that we had a mother and calf with us. The photos below, taken by Jennifer Hendershott, confirmed our guess. 

We waited until they were 100 yards away before slowly starting to move towards the misty islands. We made it there in about fifteen minutes, and started floating by Sugarloaf on the eastern side of the island when another humpback surfaced in Fisherman's Bay within 100 yards of us. It surfaced several times on our port stern before swimming under us and reappearing on our starboard bow and moving to the other side of Sugarloaf. 

Common murre with krill. 

Common murre with krill. 

The islands were coated with common murres, and Sugarloaf was covered in cormorants and gulls as well. I noticed several tufted puffins resting on the rocks below the murres. 

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Tufted puffin. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

On shore, California and steller sea lions wrestled and barked. Some of them were perched on cliffs over 20 feet above the water, and some swam in small groups close to shore. The noise of the birds and the sea lions carried far out over the water.

Sea lions getting comfy. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Sea lions getting comfy. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

We slowly made our way around the lee side of the island. We had several birders on board, so together we were able to spot several more tufted puffins, a large group of red throated phallaropes, and a few Cassin's auklets. Near Garbage Gulch we spotted a resting elephant seal. 

After going past Saddle Rock, we turned around and headed back for one last look at Sugarloaf. Our photographer, Jen, and some of the passengers caught a glimpse of blue-footed and brown boobies resting on the rock. 

Blue footed booby. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Blue footed booby. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott. 

Pigeon guillemot taking off. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Pigeon guillemot taking off. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Red throated phallarope losing its breeding plumage. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Red throated phallarope losing its breeding plumage. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

We had an easy ride back to port with the swell and the wind at our back. We did about 17 knots until we got close to the area where we know there can be large concentrations of humpbacks. We slowed to 13 knots, and then down to 10 when we reached the channel. We spotted spouts by Mile Rock and at other points in the strait, but we slowly moved past them to get back to port. 

We reported the humpbacks in the strait to the Coast Guard and to NOAA on the Whale Alert app. 

Full sightings list. 

Full sightings list. 

A huge thank you to SFWT photographer Jennifer Hendershott, who captured most of these photos. You can find more photos on her Facebook page or on the SFWT Facebook page. 

***If you were on this trip 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!***