A killer whale spotted Thursday at the Coronado Islands, just inside Mexican waters, is a peculiar mammal affectionately nicknamed Mel... or Mysterious Mel.
It's the same orca spotted last June and July in the same area--and during those sightings and Thursday's sighting Mel was seen swimming with a large pod of common dolphins.
That's what makes Mel so peculiar, since killer whales and common dolphins aren't usually friendly toward one another, and since some types of killer whales prey on dolphins.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the killer whale was photographed by Judy Lawrence, a volunteer for the San Diego Natural History Museum's whaler program.
She was aboard an H&M Landing vessel and the Mel spotting was near North Coronado Island.
Lawrence said in a phone interview that the group had first spotted a "megapod" of common dolphins swimming at high speed, and that two kids from Oklahoma were the first to announce that there was a killer whale with the dolphins.
"Then I looked over and saw the dorsal fin," Lawrence said.
Lawrence also said the captain claimed to have spotted two killer whales, but a double sighting during the 30-minute encounter was not confirmed.
Killer whale researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, after comparing photographs taken last summer and Thursday, positively identified Mel on Friday.
Mel was named in honor of Melissa Panfili Galieti, a naturalist who spotted the juvenile male orca--her first wild orca sighting--off San Diego last June 23. Schulman-Janiger dubbed him "Mysterious Mel" because so little is known about the mammal.
"We don't know where he came from or who his family is," Schulman-Janiger said.
It's not known whether Mel is an orphan--though that seems likely--or how much time he spends with dolphins.
He has been spotted and photographed with other killer whales before, off Baja California and in U.S. waters. But during most sightings Mel was with his unlikely dolphin companions.
--Photo of 'Mysterious Mel,' captured Thursday at North Coronado Island, is courtesy of Judy Lawrence
--Note: San Diego whale watchers will be on the lookout for Mel over the next few weeks. If anyone captures sharp images of any orcas in the region, please email them, with sighting information, to Alisa Schulman-Janiger at Janiger@cox.net