The blue whales are as big as a boat – and a pod of playful dolphins couldn’t help but go for a joy ride.
A video of one of the behemoth marine mammals recently taken just a few miles off Orange County’s coastline has gone viral, with more than 1 million views since Dana Wharf Whale Watching posted the encounter over the weekend.
“There were common dolphins riding the front of the whale, the mouth of the whale, because it makes such a large wave,” said Donna Kalez, manager of Dana Wharf. “It was pretty cool.”
The whale, estimated to be about 85-foot long, came close to the coast for three days, starting Thursday, June 24, traveling from Dana Point up to Newport Beach and into Long Beach. The whale was believed to be feeding on krill, a welcome sign for whale watching charters who hope there’s plenty of food nearby to draw the world’s largest creature.
“We love when we see whales feeding on krill,” Kalez said. “The krill makes them stick around.”
The same whale was reported early Monday morning about 13 miles off Newport Beach, with hopes it would come close to shore once again.
While there’s been a lot of blue whale activity 20-to-25-miles offshore, when the whales come close it brings excitement for whale enthusiasts who don’t have to travel as far to get a glimpse, she said.
Two other blue whales were spotted a week earlier, also sticking around for a few days.
“Two weeks in a row we’ve had close blue whales,” Kalez said. “This is the pattern we want to see. This is where we want them, this is the zone.”
The latest whale was just three miles off the coast, with video showing the Dana Point Harbor in the distance.
“Blue whales are the largest animals on the planet, to be able to see one off our coast is magical,” Kalez said. “That’s what the visitors come for, a glimpse of a blue whale… most of the time people have to go on longer trips to see a blue whale.”
While gray whales have a predictable migration, with most passing Southern California on their way back to Alaska after spending winter in warm waters off Mexico, it’s anyone’s guess when, or if, the blue behemoths will show up.
The mammoth mammals – whose bodies can reach up to 100 feet long – swam the ocean in great numbers in the late 1800s, numbering an estimated 200,000-plus, before mankind hunted them to near extinction for valuable oil and meat.
Now protected, their population is rebounding, with the global estimate at about 11,000. And Southern California is among the best places in the world to get close to the whales, with about 2,000 living and feeding in local waters.
Two decades ago, it would have been big news if a blue whale was spotted along the Southern California coastline.
Prior to the mid-2000s, whale-watchers would have to trek up to the Channel Islands or Monterey to get a glimpse of sleek-bodied blue whales after they had spent winter months off Costa Rica and Mexico. In the late ’90s, there were some years with only a dozen or so sightings.
But then, likely due to finding food off the coast, the number began surging, prompting a wave of whale-watching businesses to open or expand their operations year-round.
By 2008, about 130 blue whales were spotted, then 291 the following year, according to Dana Wharf Whale Watching logs. In 2011, there was a surge of blue whales nearly every day during the summer – a total of 752 sightings, according to the Dana Wharf logs.
The water changed, however, when El Nino showed up. The food disappeared, and so did the whales. According to Dana Wharf logs, sightings dropped from a little more than 400 in 2014 to about 100 in 2016. In 2017, there were only about 40 blue whale sightings.
In 2018, there was a new resurgence, with sightings up to 169, according to Dana Wharf logs, with the first sighting in May.
“Every summer, we don’t know what we’re going to see,” Kalez said.
It’s hard to tell how many showed up last year, with coronavirus restriction and fewer boats on the water to track their appearance.
But whale watching enthusiasts are hoping their recent appearance is a good sign. The video shot by Diamond Block Studios that reached 1 million online views shows the excitement for the blue whale season.
“It went totally crazy,” Kalez said. “People were so excited, it’s a blue summer.”
Source: Orange County Register