For months now, pods of killer whales have been spotted off Southern California in rare appearances, which are typically uncommon for the region.
Whale watching tour boats, fishing vessels, and even folks from the shoreline have seen the orcas cruising the waters from Palos Verdes to San Diego, playing, hamming it up for the cameras, and mostly, feasting on their preferred prey: dolphins.
And speaking of which, a group of surfers got quite the show this weekend, when a pod of orcas ripped apart a dolphin just beyond the lineup in La Jolla.
The clip comes from San Diego pro surfer turned surf coach, Jake Halstead. Speaking to SURFER, Halstead recounted the incident:
“I was pretty baffled on the whole experience. I was doing my regular Sunday morning video review coaching and a lady walked by me and said the orcas are headed south from Blacks right now they should be here within five minutes. I was thinking, ‘yeah right, I doubt I’ll see anything.’ Then exactly five minutes later they made their way in.
“Pretty crazy experience to see on a Sunday morning. I had a lot of people comment and message me how scared they were for the swimmers, but they wanted nothing to do with them. They made their way through a crowd of 250 surfers to get to the two dolphins, so that should say a lot.”
This incident, along with many others this winter, has shown the power and ferocity of these apex predators when feasting on dolphins in Southern California waters. Like just recently, when an orca head-butted a dolphin into the stratosphere off San Diego.
According to Jessica Rodriguez, the education and communications manager at Newport Landing & Davey’s Locker Whale Watching, the orca sightings in SoCal are totally rare.
“You’re normally going to see these types of killer whales in Mexico and South America,” Rodriguez told The Guardian. “Being able to see them off the coast of Orange County even just one time is rare, but multiple consecutive sightings over the course of two weeks is extremely rare. They’re normally warm water killer whales, and they like to hang out in those warmer waters off the coast of Baja.”
As to why these apex predator whales are hanging out in different territories recently, the best guess is that it’s due to El Niño and the warmer water patterns. Also, there’s an abundance of food, and the dolphins in SoCal are, perhaps, not accustomed to dealing with orca attacks.
In other words, it’s an easy lunch.
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