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Orcas congregate off the coast of Southern California. A bloody and impressive spectacle shows why

The “National Geographic moment” occurred shortly before sunset, a few miles from the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

A few weeks ago, Highlands resident Austin Day was spending the afternoon visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach with his girlfriend when they purchased last-minute tickets for a viewing excursion whales at the start. They were part of a group of 30 to 40 people who hoped to see migrating gray whales.

What they saw was a much rarer occurrence.

A pod of orcas – 10 by Day’s count – surrounded a dolphin and beat and shook the beleaguered creature before killing it and feasting on it.

One of the orcas then stopped next to the stunned whale watchers and sprayed a blood-red mixture of air, mucus and dolphin bits from its blowhole.

The orcas native to Mexico and Central America are believed to have been sighted dozens of times from Long Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Laguna Beach over the past three weeks. Here, an orca is pictured near the Palos Verdes Peninsula on December 11.

(Courtesy of Austin Day)

“It was pretty cool to see,” Day said. “At first the orcas were hanging out outside, then half a mile away they chased one of the slower dolphins and then ate it. I did not expect that.

Day’s experience was one of the first this month in what he called an “unexpected and exciting” development for whale-watching enthusiasts and tour boat operators, who are witnessing of an increase in killer whale activity in the waters off the coast of southern California.

Over the past three weeks, killer whales from Mexico and Central America have been sighted dozens of times from Long Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Laguna Beach, according to Tyler Askari, Harbor Breeze assistant harbor captain. Yacht Charter, based in Long Beach, and Cruises.

“Although orcas are common in California, we just haven’t seen them come to Southern California in a few years,” Askari said. “It’s been incredible.”

He and other experts believe the whales are tropical orcas from the eastern Pacific that frequent the warmer waters south of Los Angeles. Askari said aquatic mammals are more common in the region due to the increased abundance of dolphins, a staple of their diet.

“We see the orcas because they are becoming aware of the super pods and mega pods of dolphins that number between 2,000 and 4,000 individuals, and they are easier to hunt than other whales,” Askari said.

The last orca to attract such attention in the area was a 3-year-old juvenile nicknamed Frosty, a white migrant from the West Coast whose arrival was well documented after being spotted near Malibu with a pod of six in april.

Most of the orcas seen off California are spotted near Monterey or farther down the coast, Askari said.

The sighting of multiple orcas on Dec. 11 was the first in two years, he noted. Since then, Harbor Breeze’s total for orca sightings are 61. This pales in comparison to finned (468), humpback (356) and blue (210) whales, for example.

This total, however, is the highest for orcas since 73 sightings in 2018.

Harbor Breeze operates 83-foot catamarans that can carry up to 250 passengers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The travelers’ responses delighted Askari.

“People cried when they saw this National Geographic moment,” he said. “Some children were scared, but so many others sat in awe at the sight of these magnificent creatures.”

Captain Steve Plantz runs two daily tours through his company, SoCal Whale Watching, on his 30-foot rigid inflatable boat.

“It’s just a surprising and exciting development to see these tropical eastern Pacific orcas in this area,” he said. “I haven’t seen them here frequently since 2018, 2019.”

Plantz said the San Pedro Channel, the waterway between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island, has been an unexpected hot spot lately.

He said his charters over the past three weeks have been “incredible”.

“The passengers were absolutely amazed, and seeing these creatures – even more so than dolphins or other whale species – brought out their passion and wonder,” Plantz said. “We’re really lucky for this moment.”

California Daily Newspapers

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