Chelsea Schreiber

Killer whales spotted in Santa Monica Bay, again

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Sightseers on the Redondo Beach King Harbor-based whale watching boat The Voyager went out in search of the killer whales on Monday afternoon. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Sightseers on the Redondo Beach King Harbor-based whale watching boat The Voyager went out in search of the killer whales on Monday afternoon. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

An unidentified pod of five Killer Whales were spotted of the Catalina Island coastline early Monday morning by local catamaran, The Christopher. The group has yet to be positively identified, but Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the director of the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project and founder of the California Killer Whale Project, believes they are part of a larger group that was sighted about one mile offshore, heading south off of Dana Point just two days earlier.

“They are not the CA51s, the pod known as the friendly pod,” said Schulman-Janiger, about the pod that is known for their curiosity and interactions with boaters. “The fact that they came down last year and came down again looks to me like perhaps a pattern is developing, and it is possible that it’s a range extension.”

A lone Elephant Seal pup was also spotted in the Redondo Beach harbor, a sighting that has never before happened in the area.

Last May the seven-orca transient CA51 family that often bring other pods to areas and act as ‘tour guides,’ were spotted with another family, the CA27s, and hunted and killed a newborn gray whale near the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Palos Verdes. That was the first time in 28 years a killer whale was seen killing and eating a calf in the Santa Monica Bay.

The increase in killer whale sightings may be attributed to the curious CA51 group that has introduced other families to the area.

“It could start off as ‘hey, let’s go have an adventure,” to “hey, that was pretty cool — or, there was food there, let’s go again,’” Schulman-Janiger said.

The Monterey-based killer whales, including three other families, have been recently spotted hunting sea lions and dolphins in Dana Point.

“The 51s brought the 140s down last December and January,” said Schulman-Janiger. “Maybe the 140s brought the new group down now.”

For the group at the Interpretive Center, the killer whale sighting is exciting, but makes them nervous for the fate of the southbound Pacific Gray Whale calves that have been migrating in record numbers and this year is on track to surpass the 16-year record. So far they have seen 760 southbound gray’s along with 21 calves. Saturday was their biggest day of the season, adding 27 northbound and 4 southbound whales to the high count. According to Schulman-Janiger, last year they saw 260 northbound calves with their mothers and because of the 30-year record count last year, she expects to see a juvenile bump this year in March with the adult migration. The second pulse of whales migrating with the new born-calves won’t migrate from the lagoons in Baja California, Mexico to the cool Alaskan waters until late April or early May. Both southbound and northbound gray whales migrate a week to ten days later than they did 25 – 20 years ago.

“That may or may not be tied to climate change,” said Schulman-Janiger. “But it is interesting.”

Schulman-Janiger suggests that if you encounter a whale, to keep your distance.

“If killer whales are out there it’s great to go out into the area, but turn off your engine. You don’t want to speed up to them or chase them,” said Schulman-Janiger. “If they want to, they will come up to you. You can approach up to 100 yards, but if they approach you, you’ve done nothing wrong. Just cut your engine or put it in idle so they don’t get hurt.”

Her main suggestion is to get as many pictures as possible. “People are crazy about GoPros, so put it in the water with a stick and stay in your boat. If you put a pole in the water with a camera you can get incredible pictures, and that’s super helpful for behavior [studies],” said Schulman-Janiger. “The more pictures people get the more information we know and we can fill in holes about what’s going on and who might be related to who.” ER

You can email Schulman-Janiger pictures at janiger@cox.net

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