A pod of five to eight whales were swimming about a mile from the coast. Local whale watchers got to take dozens of photos of the playful animals.
By Carly Erickson / The Malibu Times
A pod of orca whales, also known as killer whales, was seen about a mile off the coast of Malibu by a group of whale watchers Sunday. Sightings of these large black and white mammals, which are typically 30 feet long and can weigh up to eight tons, are uncommon in the area. According to the American Cetacean Society, while orca whales are found throughout the world, they commonly live in cooler waters.
“They’re rare around here,” Tyler Vanderlip of Malibu Pier Whale Watching said. “The captain [of the boat that went out Sunday] is 60 years old and he’s never seen them locally.”
The whales were not shy about approaching the boat of whale watchers. As the boat slowly got closer, the pod, estimated between five and eight whales, swam toward the boat.
“Contrary to running from us, they let us approach and hung around our boat…they showed great curiosity about us,” Alex Alexeff, a whale watcher, wrote in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.
The pod spent about 20 minutes with the whale watchers at the end of their tour. “The first one came right at the boat and went underneath it and whacked its tail on the boat,” Vanderlip said. “They would come real close to the boat and rub their bellies on the boat, they were just as close as they could get … One of them actually came so close that it blew its blowhole next to the boat and you could feel the mist of it.”
The whale watchers determined that the group was a family, with one male, a few females and at least two young whales. Orcas commonly travel in familial groups such as these, according to the American Cetacean Society.
“You could tell it was a family,” Monica Alexeff, wife of Alex, said. “The baby was doing tricks with the mom, it was really sweet.”
The carnivorous whales also spent some time circling a nearby sea lion.
“Lolling in the water nearby the whales was a sea lion sitting on the surface,” Alex Alexeff wrote. “He was not dead, but seemed to be playing dead, leading us to speculate that he was terrified of the large predators and was waiting for them to leave the area.”
This reportedly might be the same family of whales that was recently spotted further south of Malibu. This particular pod travels between Orange County and the Pacific Northwest.
“This could be one [pod] that was playing with one of the glass bottom boats south of us where the male is very curious and rolls under the boats and watches people like he did us yesterday,” Karen Mitchell, the manager of Malibu Pier Whale Watching, said.
While some pods of orca whales only eat fish, others hunt sea lions and dolphins. If this pod is the latter that is likely the reason they were spotted locally. Mitchell noted this possibility, saying, “Since we have such a large super pod of dolphins up here in the bay, especially here in Malibu, that’s why they came up here.”
In addition, orcas are one of the only species of whales that travel according to the availability of food, rather than follow a specific migration pattern.
The giant whales made for lots of excitement on the tour.
“I have never seen a boat come back with a happier group of people,” Mitchell said.