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Scientists Looking for Help Identifying an Unusual Group of Killer Whales

A boat captain reports spotting the pod of orcas feeding on fish Friday morning.

A pod of six to eight Orcas was seen Friday morning about 10 miles from San Pedro near the Whiskey Buoy, a local boat captain reported. The killer whales were feeding on fish, which is unusual as most Orcas in the area feed on mammals.

The killer whales seen Friday have been identified as offshore-type killer whales. The Orcas most often seen off Southern California waters are transients, which feed almost exclusively on mammals. Offshore killer whales diet consists of fish and small sharks.

Offshore killer whales typically travel in pods between 25 to 100. At times, they break into smaller groups of 5-15. The fact that offshore Orcas travel in larger numbers bodes well for whale watchers this weekend.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger from the American Cetacean Society says she has less than 60 recorded of offshore killer whales off California in the last 19 years.   

 Schulman-Janiger is requesting that weekend boaters who encounter any killer whales take photographs for identification purposes; you can reach her via email at janiger@cox.net.)

Don Ashley, from Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach, remembered one time a generation ago that he saw Orcas feeding on fish.

“It was around 1975 when I was working on the Charger out of San Diego, when a pod of Orcas surrounded us and started eating every hooked albacore we had,” he said. “The thing I remember most is that a couple of the albacore were reeled in dead without any bite marks at all—it was as though they died of fright.”

Capt. Jerry Lewis of the Magician, out of Ports O' Call Sportfishing, was headed to Catalina Island for a dive trip when he spotted the ferocious predators rounding up bait balls.

“They were very active, blowing bubbles, circling the bait and breaching,” Lewis said.

At one point, the pod broke into two smaller groups but came together again after about 10 minutes.

“It was so amazing to see these animals work as a group,” Lewis said. “They were circling the bait, blowing bubbles and herding the baitfish into tighter circles so they could eat them.”

The Orca is an odontocete, or toothed, whale and has been called “the wolf of the sea.” They are skillful, fast and well-organized hunters. Orcas have about 50 conical teeth that point slightly backward and inward. The upper and lower teeth interlock, which aids in gripping large prey and tearing it into smaller pieces.

They generally live in pods consisting of several females, calves, one or more males and/or juveniles.

There have been some enormous bait balls off Palos Verdes so it is not out of the question that the whales will show up there. Now would be a great time to jump on a whale-watching trip and possibly witness the "wolf of the sea" up close and personal.

Paul April 17, 2011 at 12:45 AM
Having gone on cruises where we thought we were lucky to see a dozen porpoises, it was amazing to see hundreds jumping and swimming just outside the Long Beach Harbor entrance. At night I have seen a few feeding around the oil islands. Our ocean can come back.
Philip Friedman April 17, 2011 at 01:09 AM
There is nothing like seeing nature on natures terms Paul. There does seem to be a lot of life this year. Different types of whales, giant schools of sardines and anchovies, more market squid than anyone can remember. I am so glad you were able to see such a great porpise show. Thanks for checking in on Patch
Kris April 17, 2011 at 07:54 PM
You mean dolphins, right? Probably common. We don't see dall's porpoise down here often.
Philip Friedman April 18, 2011 at 05:46 AM
You are so right Jonas. Thank you so much for bringing that to our attention. Hope to see you back on Patch again really soon.

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