If marine mammal enthusiasts in Southern California are wondering where the blue whales are hanging out this summer, one answer is Monterey Bay.
As many as 100 of the planet's largest creatures have gathered there to gorge on tiny shrimp-like krill, and joining in the feast are dozens of smaller but more animated humpback whales.
Both species are treating mariners to what Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, described to the Santa Cruz Sentinel as a "once-in-a-lifetime chance."
It's one of the most substantial blue whale showings in recent history, because of the sheer number of whales but also because the gargantuan mammals are feeding at the surface and incredibly close to shore.
This includes horizontal and vertical lunge-feeding by cetaceans that are capable of ingesting huge quantities of krill in a single gulp.
"People get to see the world's largest mouth," said researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, explaining that a blue whale's mouth is about one-quarter of the size of a mammal that can measure 100 feet and weigh up to 150 tons, and consume up to four tons of krill per day.
Krill, of course, is key to the blue whales' existence. About 2,000 blue whales -- part of a global population of about 10,000 -- spend the summer off the West Coast fattening up on the inch-long crustaceans, before migrating back to southern waters in the fall.
Krill feed on phytoplankton and when conditions are prime in a given area, generally after the upwelling of cold water and nutrients, krill blooms can fill vast portions of the water column.
For the last two summers, dozens of blue whale fed primarily off Southern California.
The majestic leviathans, which so far have shown only sporadically and briefly, could still end up in local waters (there have been consistent sightings off Santa Barbara for the past several weeks).
But for now Monterey Bay is one of the great gathering places, and Black said tourists from around the world have traveled to Monterey to witness the spectacle.
"Everywhere you go you just see blows," she said.
-- Note: Video was filmed by Mike Merlo aboard the Sea Wolf II out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Image is courtesy of Jodi Frediani