whale watching

Sightings Report: July 10, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am:

We embarked on our journey from sunny Pier 39 and quickly found ourselves in a thick mist. The outline of the Golden Gate Bridge was just barely visible as we headed towards the Golden Gate Strait. Once past the bridge, I sighted a spout near Point Bonita. We carefully moved into position and watched as three whales near us spouted and fluked, with 3-4 more sighted across the strait by Mile Rock. We noticed one whale 500 yards away tail slapping. The fishy stink of the whale breath stuck to the fog - we could smell it even from whales 100+ yards away!

Eventually we were forced to move across the strait to get out of the way of a large container ship. Several spouts were seen very close to the ship as it passed by. After it passed, there was lull in activity, broken briefly by some harbor porpoises heading across our bow.

As we started heading in, I noticed some frenzied bird activity and roiling surface water. We began to see anchovies leaping out of the water. We were moving at around 3 knots when a humpback surfaced on our starboard bow 75 yards from the boat. We immediately put the boat in neutral and waited for the whale to circle around the back of the boat and over to the port side, where it joined two other feeding whales. We were just to the west of the bridge's south tower, with no other boats in sight. The fog was starting to evaporate and the Golden Gate Bridge slowly emerged from the mist as birds swarmed around the whales. A few harbor seals swam by to take a look the frenzy, and anchovies seemed to be flying everywhere as they attempted futile escapes. The sonar reading underneath the boat looked like it was packed with food!

Once the whales were all 100 yards away, we continued our slow crawl towards the pier. It was a good thing we were being careful, because once inside the bay we had two more whales surface within 150 yards of the boat. Needless to say, it took us much longer than usual to get back to the dock, but we were grateful that the boat traffic was light despite a few large ships.

11am:

By the time we headed back out for our 11am tour, most of the fog had burned off. I had barely finished introducing myself to the passengers when I heard cries of "breach!" from the port side. Sure enough, we had a humpback whale heading down either side of our boat as we floated between them. Both of them stayed around 200 yards away from us, but we saw lots of flukes from them. 

I wanted to check out what was happening at the bridge, so we slowly headed for the south tower. I noted a large increase in traffic had occurred while we had been at the pier; there were now several ferries, fishing boats, sailboats, and bay cruises on the water, all heading out under the bridge. We stopped just to the east of south tower and watched at least 5-6 humpbacks feeding as birds circled hungrily. They were spread out across the strait, yet still boats sped under the bridge straight through large concentrations of spouts. 

We headed to the north side of the strait to see if we could slowly cruise under the bridge, but spotted more spouts on that side, including one by Cavallo Point. We decided not to pass through the group of whales, and instead opted for the more respectful option of drifting in neutral. I estimate that we saw at least 9-10 humpbacks total; we also spotted harbor seals and harbor porpoise. 

I recorded both sightings on the Whale Alert app, and the Coast Guard was notified of the locations of the whales.

***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 8, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

3pm:

At 3:20 PM I  spotted a humpback whale fluking between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. More spouts were sighted beyond the bridge, so we slowly headed out. We stopped just past the bridgeI counted five humpback whales within 300 yards of us, with several more spouting further out in the strait. We floated in neutral in that spot for the remainder of the trip.

Many thanks to Ben and Ashley from Cincinnati for this shot!

Many thanks to Ben and Ashley from Cincinnati for this shot!

Of the ones near us, one pair appeared to be a mother and calf. They spouted and fluked together, and often floated near the surface for several minutes at a time. I observed that the mother's dorsal fin looked wounded and seemed to have a chunk hanging from it; hopefully we have some pictures to confirm. At one point the mother and calf headed straight for our port bow, coming within 10 yards. They gave us a face full of whale breath, which smells a lot like stale anchovies. They dove under our boat and popped up again about 50 yards away off our starboard bow. 

The mother humpback checking us out. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott

The mother humpback checking us out. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott

Between our position and Mile Rock, I spotted one whale slapping its tail and many more fluking and spouting. I estimate that there were at least ten whales in the strait at that time. Several large container ships passed us; once a particularly large one came through the area, we saw significantly less activity near our boat. We also had some harbor seal, California sea lion, and harbor porpoise activity near our vessel.

The sighting was reported to NOAA using Whale Alert, and the Coast Guard was notified via radio. 

Jennifer Hendershott, the company photographer for SFWT, was on board for this trip. She took the above photos. If you want to see more of her photos, you can check out the SFWT Facebook page.

6pm:

The wind died down for some beautiful sea conditions on our evening trip. We returned to the same spot, finding the whales at around 6:20 PMThere were still a large number of active whales in the area, and we approached very slowly to minimize disturbance. 

Common murres getting takeout for their chicks back in the nest. They each have a northern anchovy in their beak. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

Common murres getting takeout for their chicks back in the nest. They each have a northern anchovy in their beak. Photo by Jennifer Hendershott.

I spotted the mother and calf had now been joined by another adult. The three of them spouted and fluked in synchrony, the calf usually on the outside and the mother in the middle. We had more spouts and flukes all around the boat, and saw an immense amount of bird activity as they attempted to take advantage of the fish pushed to the surface by the whales. Again, more spouts were seen further out in the strait, but this time we had six or seven whales within 300 yards of the boat, indicating that more might have been on their way in. We also sighted harbor porpoises and harbor seals.

***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 7th, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

2pm: 

At around 2:30 we found humpback whales just outside the Golden Gate Bridge near Diablo CoveThere were 3 feeding in the immediate area, with more spouts sighted further out in the strait. 

We got a close look at a couple of harbor seals and 4-5 harbor porpoises off our bow. We also were treated to the sight of a California sea lion chowing down on a large king salmon. Several common murres were sighted with their mouths full of northern anchovies.

5pm:

The wind had picked up a bit from the last tour, but we still spotted a few different whales pretty quickly, including one just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. There were lots of spouts on the horizon, so we headed out towards Mile Rock. At 5:50, we slowly and carefully positioned ourselves above the spouts and floated in neutral as a humpback whale roughly 120 yards away repeatedly slapped its fluke against the water. The sound from the slap can be heard from far away underwater; it has potential uses for communication, as well as scaring fish into a tighter school. The slapping humpback was missing a chunk of one of the lobes on its fluke, making it very distinctive and easy to recognize. Another 2-3 spouts were sighted further offshore.

There were 4-5 more spouts near Point Bonita moving in towards the bridge, and two more humpbacks between Mile Rock and the bridge. I estimated that there were at least 8 different whales sighted in the Strait. 

***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 6th, 2017

All trips on San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat

8am: 

The fog was thick and cold, but we found 4-5 humpback whales in the Golden Gate Strait at around 8:30One humpback at Point Bonita slapped his pectoral fin on the water for several minutes, then rewarded us with at least ten breaches. There was a short period of rest between every 3-4 breaches. 

11am:

With a much bigger crowd and a little bit more sun and wind, we headed out and immediately found whales inside San Francisco BayTwo were between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, with one whale popping up right in front of a steaming ferry. We called the ferry, and they immediately altered their course to avoid the whale. 

After spotting another whale underneath the bridge, we headed out into the Strait and counted at least 5-6 more spouts between us and Point Bonita/Mile Rock. We got a few flukes on this trip, but no breaches! On this trip we also spotted some feeding harbor porpoise, a playful California sea lion, and a curious harbor seal, as well as a red tailed hawk soaring over the bridge. 

***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!***