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Orcas Gave Us a Once in a Lifetime Sight!

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Whale Watching

Friday, May 18, 2012


And I'd like to introduce a new voice to the whale watching blogs

There’s been quite a bit of hype in Long Beach around this year’s whale watching season and for good reason! We’ve had so many sightings of gray whales and orcas down here, it’s unbelievable. Orcas sightings are normally a very rare occurrence but they have been making frequent appearances beginning in January.

The transient whale pod of the Ca51s is one of the orca “families” that have been visiting us here in Long Beach from Monterey Bay. We have seen the Ca51 matriarch quite a few times, including a trip where they came right up to the boat, a calf jumped on its mom, and some even breached next to the boat. These whales have earned the nickname “the friendlies” because they can be so social with the boat! On May 9th we saw this group, as well as the Ca27; another pod that is rarely observed in Long Beach. Not only was it a rare sighting but what they were doing made this a once-in-a lifetime sight for a lot of our guests and the crew.

It turns out that the Ca51s and the Ca27s had a plan to get some dinner, and sea lions weren’t on the menu like they normally are. Instead they were looking for a gray whale calf. During the gray whale migration our naturalists point out that the gray whale cow and calf pairs stick very close to shore and try to be as quiet as possible to avoid predators such as orcas. This year one mom and baby gray whale pair weren’t as lucky. The two orca pods worked strategically to make a gray whale calf their prey and our boat saw it all. During the encounter the two pods worked to separate mom from calf. The mother defended her calf for a period of time but the combined strength of the two pods overwhelmed her efforts. Once she had given up her defense the orca pods ignored her and she swam into the kelp line. Although this is somewhat of a sad story, it is nature and we were witness this seldom-seen event. This specific predator/prey relationship is rarely ever documented. The people on the boat last Thursday will likely never see this again.

In addition to the Ca51s here last week with the Ca27s, we saw orcas again this last Tuesday, May 15! They weren’t hunting, at least that we saw, but they were acting friendly. After talking with Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who is a local orca researcher and member of the American Cetacean Society, we think there’s a good possibility that this was the Ca51 pod again. We’re waiting on photos and videos to be submitted to positively ID the animals. If anyone has photos or videos, please let me know or email Alisa directly at janiger@cox.net.

On a different note, in the upcoming months, you might notice that we have another person writing some of the whale watch blogs. To add another voice to the scene, Julien will be blogging with me as well. She’s on the boats quite a bit and will have some exciting stories to share! Check back to hear even more about what it’s like on our local waters.

Orcas Gave Us a Once in a Lifetime Sight!
Orcas will work very closely together when they're hunting.  | Branwyn Lee
Orcas Gave Us a Once in a Lifetime Sight!
This gray whale and her calf hugged the coastline trying to avoid predators, such as the killer whales. This pair was seen earlier in the day.  | Chelsea Dufour
Orcas Gave Us a Once in a Lifetime Sight!
Meet Julien! She's an Education Associate at the Aquarium and will be blogging with me soon!

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