Orca pod approaches research boat off Redondo Beach. Photo by Alisa Schulman-Janiger.
Earlier this week out in Santa Monica Bay, four traveling killer whales dazzled two marine researchers on board a boat. Lucky for us, the researchers had a camera — and recognized the orcas. The researchers were Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who has been mentioned here before as a studier of the orcas and whales that have moved into the bay recently, and Eric Martin, a marine biologist who is co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium on Manhattan Beach Pier. What they observed, Martin quipped, "was like SeaWorld without the tanks."
The encounter began nine miles west of Redondo Beach, with what Schulman-Janiger described as "a chorus line greeting," and ended an hour later a bit farther to the north.
The killer whales breached and spyhopped, surfed wakes created by the moving boat, and played beneath the vessel.
They even killed a smaller mammal–most likely a common dolphin–and celebrated with more acrobatics.
"They often do that after a kill," Schulman-Janiger said, adding that this marks the third consecutive year this group has appeared off Los Angeles during the holiday season. (Their home turf is Monterey Bay in Central California.)
When Martin ran his boat the killer whales surfed in its wake, the largest male a mere inches from the transom. When the boat stopped, the mammals surrounded the boat and resumed playing around and beneath the vessel, occasionally poking their heads out of the water for a closer look at their visitors.
Said Martin: "They were making eye contact with us, not just the boat. They were looking into our eyes, the way humans do. I don't see how it can get any better."
If you follow the wildlife news of Southern California, you probably know by now of P-22, the solitary Griffith Park mountain lion, and P-12, the male who has sired several cubs in the Santa Monicas since making history by crossing the Ventura Freeway. The orcas in this pod are labeled CA51, the matriarch whose age is unknown; CA51B, a 15-year-old male; CA51C, a 10-year-old male; and CA51D, a 3-year-old female. The sighting on Monday was the fifth in four weeks of the CA51 group in local waters, Thomas says.
* Update: Turns out Martin shot some underwater video of the CA51s under the boat. His Twitter feed.