Orcas Gone Wild: Now playing in vivid color off Southern California.
On Tuesday afternoon as many as a dozen mammal-eating "transient" killer whales were encountered by passengers and crews of whale-watching boats running from Dana Point in Orange County.
A sea lion kill had been made. Orcas were feeding on the carcass. But that's not all. The killer whales were in a mood: They spy-hopped, lob-tailed and breached. One turned upside down directly beneath a boat. One performed a back flip before awed spectators, as though it had been trained at Sea World.But there's more. On Sunday, 130 miles to the north off Oxnard, fishermen might have seen one of the same killer whales. A sea lion kill had been made here, too, and this orca was seen using its tail fluke to hurl the sea lion carcass through the air as though it were a baseball being pitched over the plate.
"It was truly amazing to watch," wrote Tom Mattusch, in an email that was forwarded to this website by a friend. "He would swim under the floating seal and bat it with his tail. He did this about 10 times before swimming away leaving the seal behind."
Tom's friend Marc Gorelnik shot an amazing sequence of photos, one of which accompanies this story. I'd have suspected this as being contrived but Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a killer whale researcher, has identified the killer whale as a young male who is presumably orphaned and has been seen with other small groups of transient orcas.
The researcher also ID'd some of the orcas seen off Dana Point. One was an adult female cataloged as CA 138, a.k.a "Scratchy," who was first documented off Monterey in 1995. With her was two offspring, including a calf born this year. Also ID'd, based on dorsal fin and saddle shapes and markings, were five other killer whales spanning three generations.
The young whales, most likely, were learning to regard sea lions as prey and how to dispatch them. Transient killer whales, however, are not frequent visitors to Southern California, so this is an exciting time for scientists and whale-watchers.
If you'd like to venture out in search of the sleek predators here are some good options:
-- Pete ThomasPhoto: "Copyright 2010 Marc Mager Gorelnik, all rights reserved"