Orca Pod Showboats on Long Beach Coast

A playful pod of orcas gave whale watchers a rare treat off of Palos Verdes Long Beach on Friday afternoon. The massive predators greeted passengers on a trip with Harbor Breeze Cruises by swimming under boats, breaching repeatedly, performing back flips, and "spy-hopping" their heads out of the water. Onlookers were astonished by the overt friendliness of the pod, since many orca are known to be wary of vessels.

The captain of the Harbor Breeze Cruises craft, Dan Salas, reported the utter delight and amazement of those on deck. "Some passengers were in tears, they had never seen anything like it," he stated. "Words can't describe what actually happened."

When fellow boaters caught wind of the orca sighting, there was a veritable stampede of interested individuals. Owner and operator of the eco-tour group Newport Coastal Adventure, Ryan Lawler, hurriedly ushered orca expert Alisa Schulman-Janiger and wildlife photographer Mark Girardeau onto his boat to follow the pod as it ventured into Orange County waters. By nightfall, the orcas were at the oil rigs off of Huntington Beach.

Girardeau, fresh from a trip up the coast to photograph orca, was estatic to find them in his own backyard. "They are more rare, we don't get them much," he explained. "The killer whales are the ultimate species, it's the iconic mammal you get to see."

Years can stretch between orca sightings on the Palos Verdes coast. This pod, called CA-51, has not been seen near Long Beach since January of 2015, with a previous sighting in January of 2012. Many have noted how unusually playful CA-51 is when coming into contact with humans. The friendliest orca of the pod are named O'rion, Bumper, Star, and Comet. Videos show passengers calling out greetings by name and receiving long looks from the predators in return.

Whale watching and ecotourism vessels were sold out for Saturday morning; the boats were crowded with people desperate to catch a glimpse of black and white on the water.


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