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Dozens of killer whales thrill Southern California sightseers

Whale-watching vessels report seeing 20 to 40 of the marine mammals, also known as orcas, swimming up the coast from Dana Point to Long Beach.

January 20, 2012|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • Two killer whales, part of an "offshore" pod of up to 40 orcas, pass a whale-watching boat off Newport Beach. It's not uncommon for the marine mammals to roam Southern California waters in search of sharks and other prey, according to the experts who track and identify them. Seeing them in such numbers, however, is unusual.
Two killer whales, part of an "offshore" pod of up to 40 orcas,… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

Tour boats were buzzing with activity Thursday as sightseers spotted dozens of killer whales cruising the Southern California coast.

Whale-watching vessels reported seeing 20 to 40 of the marine mammals, also known as orcas, swimming up the coast from Dana Point to Long Beach.

It's not uncommon for killer whales to roam Southern California waters in search of sea lions and other prey, according to the experts who track and identify them. Seeing them in such numbers, however, is unusual.

PHOTOS: Orcas off Southern California

Hence the excitement that erupted Thursday morning when radios squawked with reports of an unbelievable number of orcas off Dana Point.

The timing couldn't have been better for the Dana Pride, a vessel on a chartered whale-watching trip for elementary school children when it came across a pod of 20 killer whales about 10:30 a.m.

"They got the time of their lives seeing all those orcas," said Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching.

Observers for the Aquarium of the Pacific, who were aboard the Harbor Breeze Cruises boat Christopher photographing and identifying the whales, counted more than 30 orcas off the coast of Long Beach on two afternoon whale-watching trips.

"We were just completely surrounded. There were so many it was hard to get a good count," said Kera Mathes, education specialist and whale research biologist for the aquarium. "It was incredible. I've never seen so many orcas before."

The orcas stopping through Thursday may be from an "offshore" population based in British Columbia. They travel in massive numbers and prefer to feed on sharks, experts said. The offshore orcas were last seen close to the Southern California shore in 2005.

"We don't really know where they go or where they come from," Mathes said. "We just see them every couple of years."

PHOTOS: Orcas off Southern California

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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