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Orcas Already?!

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Conservation | Whale Watching

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Our boats say YES!

We’ve just kicked off gray whale season and we’re already having some great sightings out there! I was shocked when we started seeing gray whales so early, but after this last weekend, we can officially say orcas are debuting for the season as well.

I got a call this last Saturday that there were orcas being spotted on our boats, and of course I wasn’t anywhere near the boats to come out and see. The good news was our intern Chris was there and able to get some great shots! I always joke around that I have bad orca juju, but I’m really beginning to feel that way! I’ve yet to see orcas in California (although I did get some great shows up in the San Juan Islands, so I can’t completely complain). At least my interns are getting great shows.

One of the main things we try and get pictures of when we see these amazing animals are the saddle patches behind their dorsal fins and the white eye patches. These are like finger prints. Each whale has a different shape marking and we can use this to help identify each whale. The particular few that we saw were from the CA51 matriline. That’s the name of this particular family. It’s really amazing once you start looking into the history of these matrilines and the families . When we see these pods, a lot of times they’re a close family traveling together, just like our own families. This time there were even some calves around, and some mating behaviors going on!

The CA51 matriline is a transient pod of orcas meaning that they hunt marine mammals. Not all orcas eat mammals. For example, when I was in the San Juan Islands, I saw mostly Northern Resident pods; J-pod, K-pod, and L-pod. Residents orcas feed primarily on Chinook salmon. We don’t see the residents down this way, but they have been spotted towards Northern California before. The third type that sometimes visit this area are the offshores. They’re a somewhat newly discovered type of orca and we think they eat larger fish, like tuna and sharks.

Although the orcas were only in the area this last weekend, there’s no telling when they will return. I’m hoping it will be sooner rather than later, but you just never know. I guess that’s half the fun of going whale watching. You just never know what you are going to see. I’ve been going on the water for years and I still get excited every time we leave the dock. If you’re interested in seeing what Mother Nature has to offer, we’re going out on the water every day. With winter break coming up, now’s a great time to roll the dice and see what your boat trip will find in our big, beautiful ocean.

Orcas Already?!
Another orca does a tail slap.  | Chris Mumford
Orcas Already?!
Four orcas move around the boat checking us out the way we're checking them out.  | Chris Mumford
Orcas Already?!
A resident orca that I saw this summer in Washington. They eat mostly Chinook salmon.  | Kera Mathes

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