"From the pictures I've seen and the people I've talked to, some of these are the same animals we had in that big group last year," she said. "Some of them are also probably from that offshore population, which is not very well understood.
"It travels in fairly large numbers, it is very vocal and the animals have a lot of marked up fins. They go offshore somewhere or maybe even to another country, we don't know. They were seen in June, 1992, off Vancouver Island and weren't photographed again until September of '94 off the Farallons, and then we had them last February."
One thing is understood: The killer whales--this year and last--have been a boon to the whale-watching businesses up and down the coast, and they have provided at least two Southland skin-divers with the thrill of a lifetime.
In the first instance, Orange County's Bill Odell, while on an excursion with his family, decided to dive in with the killer whales with his underwater video camera.
In the video, several killer whales could easily be seen moving gracefully about in the water off Santa Catalina Island, making occasional passes at Odell, some within only a few feet.
When word spread of his adventure, a dive instructor for Dive 'N Surf in Redondo Beach decided he also wanted to swim with the killer whales.
Tony Vanore was as successful as Odell. His story, along with a photograph showing him waving to his friends on the boat while surrounded by killer whales, was displayed in the Hermosa Beach-based Easy Reader.
And it prompted a mini-outcry on the part of a concerned public (mostly for the animals sake, not the diver's) and experts who pointed out that Vanore was probably in violation of the Marine Mammal Act, designed to protect the animals from harassment.
"The guy is out of his mind," Brown said. "If people start jumping in with killer whales it's only a matter of time before one of these orcas [as killer whales are also called] is going to take somebody apart, because they don't know any predators, they know no fear. They don't have anything in the ocean that can take them out."
A National Marine Fisheries Service officer did visit Dive 'N Surf and Vanore. But Ray Sautter, a special agent for the enforcement arm of the agency, said there are no plans to prosecute anyone.
"We define harassment as an active pursuit to torment or cause an annoyance which has the potential to injure or disturb a marine mammal or cause a disruption of its behavioral patterns," Sautter said. "I doubt this diver did any of that--I mean these are killer whales. In this case I'd be more concerned about the diver. All we ask is that people give them a little room and use a little common sense."
Local: Time will tell whether the spring ocean salmon bite will equal last year's record haul, but already there are reports of salmon being caught incidentally by commercial fishermen operating around the northern Channel Islands. The recreational season south of Point Arena near San Francisco begins March 2. Last year, sport fishermen landed an all-time high 397,000 king salmon statewide. The fish extended well south of their normal range, and anglers off the Santa Barbara-Ventura coast were among those experiencing a phenomenal bite.
Cabo San Lucas: Marlin fishermen wondering what happened to the bite off Cabo San Lucas may find the answer 200 miles up the coast. That's where the stripers are, in mass according to radio reports from private boaters received by John Doughty of J.D.'s Big Game Tackle on Balboa Island. Some skippers have reported catching and releasing as many as 20 stripers a day.
Calendar: The annual Blake Jones Trout Derby, sponsored by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, will be held in the Eastern Sierra Community on March 9. Cost is $5 for adults, $1 for children. Details: (619) 873-8405. . . . The annual Southern California Fly Fishing Show, sponsored by the Southwest Council Federation of Fly Fishers, will be held at the Orange County Fairgrounds March 16-17 from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. The show features about 100 exhibitor booths, guest speakers and demonstrations, and special women's instructional programs. Registration is $7 for adults, $3 for children. Details: (818) 349-2649.