For the second year in a row, killer whales were spotted on New Year's Day from the Palos Verdes Peninsula. They were a mother and three of her offspring, part of the same group of transient killer whales that visited on Jan. 1, 2012.
These orcas, which are more commonly seen off Monterey, were first spotted at 2:40 p.m. by volunteers from the ACS/L.A. Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the peninsula. Later Tuesday afternoon, Eric Martin and his son Cody enjoyed an amazingly close encounter while aboard their small boat. Cody captured the accompanying image and Eric, a marine biologist, captured the underwater footage with a GoPro HERO2 camera attached to a six-foot-long PVC pole.
The small orca that can be seen swimming upside-down is a 2-year-old female nicknamed Comet. As Eric Martin was holding the pole, one of the larger orcas, a young male, surfaced to within about three feet from his face (viewers should turn up the volume to hear Martin's reaction).
"We were eyeball to eyeball. I could have put my hand down and touched it," Martin said.
These are part of a family group photo-cataloged as CA51s. The mother is CA51. With her were sons CA51C and CA51B, and CA51D, a.k.a. Comet.
Not present were an older daughter and two grand kids.
The CA51s are known as the "friendly pod" because they often express curiosity toward boaters. (The four orcas swam to Martin's 19-foot boat as it was idle, while he was searching for them.)
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs the California Killer Whale Project, says they seem to regard local waters as a vacation spot of sorts, having been documented between Santa Barbara and Orange County on 24 days since September 2011. Most of the visits have been during the winter holiday season.
Before 2011, their visits were far less frequent.
Transient killer whales feed predominantly on marine mammals and the CA51s, during their visits, have often been seen preying on sea lions.
Schulman-Janiger said the CA51s last May were involved in the only documented killer whale attack on a gray whale calf off Los Angeles County. Killer whales commonly attack gray whale cow-calf pairs off Monterey during the northbound gray whale migration.
When Eric and Cody Martin left the orcas they were about five miles off Redondo Beach, at about 4 p.m., heading north.
--Image showing two male orcas encountered Tuesday off Palos Verdes is courtesy of Cody Martin. The orcas pictured (left to right) are CA51C and CA51B, brothers aged 9 and 14, respectively.