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Rare sighting of tropical false killer whales off Orange County coast

A pod of about 40 false killer whales showed up along the Orange County coastline on Saturday, March 20, a rare sighting for the tropical species typically found in warmer waters.

The last time they were reported locally was spring 2019, when they showed up four times that year.

Last year, because of coronavirus shutdowns of local whale watching charters, there weren’t the usual scores of people out on the water to see if they had showed up again. Prior to the 2019 sighting, they were seen in 2017 and 2016, always around this time of year.

“They like Mexico and this is just kind of a little spring break trip. It always happens during spring break, March to April, up the Southern California coast,” said Ryan Lawler, owner of Newport Coastal Adventure. “They look for white seabass and yellowtail to eat. Then, we never see them in summer, fall or winter.”

Lawler was out on a private birthday party charter when he saw the pod of jet back beauties just outside of the Newport Harbor entrance.

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His charter wasn’t the only ones who got a treat, with the pod weaving in and out of a sailboat race that was happening right off Newport Beach’s coast, Lawler said.

“They just popped up in the middle of this armada of boats,” he said. “All these big black dolphins popped up in the middle of them.”

Like actual killer whales, the false killer whales are a dolphin species. False killer whales are social animals found globally in tropical and subtropical oceans and generally in deep offshore waters, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The false killer whale’s entire body is black or dark gray, though some have lighter areas on their underside, according to NOAA. Adult females reach lengths of 16 feet, while adult males are typically almost 20 feet long. In adulthood, large false killer whales can weigh up to 3,000 pounds.

The false killer whales were just 20 feet from Lawler’s small inflatable boat, giving a thrill to passengers who got to see the creatures up close.

“The chances are so small,” he said of seeing false killer whales. “For everyone it’s almost like bragging rights – it’s a totally once-a-in a lifetime, obscure sighting.

“You have to educate them about them about what we’re seeing, because it’s so rare.”

And, they were loud, he said, vocalizing to one another. They were still around during his afternoon charter, off Laguna Beach later in the day, and heading southbound. They were also seen off of Dana Point.

It was a nice change of pace from the gray whale sightings every day, he said.

“We’re just seeing gray whales everyday, it’s been a lot of volume but not a lot of flavor,” he said. “To have these black beauties show up in the middle of the gray whale migration – they have  a huge dome forehead, jet black and they are really cool.”


Source: Orange County Register

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