Monday, October 2, 2023

A boat carrying tourists and experts spotted three killer whales feeding in Monterey Bay while on a recent California whale-watching tour.

As the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat approached the creatures, experts onboard realized that they had actually found something much more surprising: They had discovered a trio of offshore killer whales, including two adults and a calf, the California Killer Whale Project said in an Aug. 3 Facebook post.

“They appeared to be feeding on some type of prey over the canyon. They were staying in one spot, making multiple 5 minute dives,” the post said of the July 16 sighting. “After about 15 minutes, they popped up a quarter of a mile to the southwest, in fast travel mode with shorter dives, zig zagging along the canyon edge.”

The boat reported seeing a group of dolphins swimming the opposite direction of the whales, and a nearby fisherman said two blue whales were swimming away, the post said.

Offshore whales are an elusive species of killer whale found in the North Pacific, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The animals are “rarely encountered” and are typically seen in large groups of more than 50. They prey on sharks and fish.

There are only about 300 individuals in the species, Monterey Bay Whale Watch experts said in a July 17 Instagram post.

“You truly NEVER know what the bay has in store,” the post said. “These elusive and rarely encountered cetaceans are typically found very far offshore making the data we collected during this sighting incredibly important for science!”

Morgan Quimby, a photographer who works with the California Killer Whale Project and Monterey Bay Whale Watch, said the encounter was one she will not soon forget.

“Still processing the experience of encountering a trio of North Pacific Offshore killer whales yesterday,” she wrote in a July 17 Instagram post. “These shark hunters are elusive and extremely rare to encounter, making yesterday one for the books.”

Social media users shared their excitement about the sighting.

“Magnificent! What a treat,” one person commented on Instagram.

“This season keeps on giving! How amazing and exciting for all of you,” another person wrote.

“Stunning,” a third person commented.

Offshore killer whales: an elusive creature

Offshore killer whales feed primarily on sharks, but they also eat large fish, like halibut, according to Monterey Bay Whale Watch. Because sharks have such tough skin, the whales often have worn-down teeth, occasionally to the gums.

Experts said they didn’t get a look at any of the trio’s teeth, so they used other features to identify them, such as their uniquely shaped dorsal fins.

“Their dorsal fins are more rounded at the top than our typical Bigg’s killer whales, and the dorsal fins often are quite ragged and torn up on the trailing edge due to their primary prey of sharks,” Monterey Bay Whale Watch said in their post. “They also typically have closed saddle patches but can have black intrusions called ‘fingers’ like one of the individuals we encountered had.”

Bigg’s killer whales — another type of killer whale — are commonly seen in the bay, according to the post.

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