ORCAS SEEN IN MON­TEREY BAY

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY GABBY FERREIRA

A pod of rare killer whales was spot­ted in Mon­terey Bay for the first time since 2011.

Video show­ing an en­dan­gered killer whale pod in Mon­terey Bay — a place where they haven’t been seen in years — is mak­ing waves.

The last time those killer whales were spot­ted in Mon­terey Bay was 2011, ac­cord­ing to Nancy Black, ma­rine biologist and owner of Mon­terey Bay Whale Watch. A Facebook post on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s page called it a “very rare sight­ing!”

The orcas are part of “L pod,” a group of killer whales that typ­i­cally re­sides in the Pa­cific North­west and feeds in the Puget Sound area near Wash­ing­ton state and Van­cou­ver, Canada. The first time they were spot­ted in the Mon­terey Bay area was in 2000, Black said.

Typ­i­cally, the killer whales that come to Mon­terey Bay are known as tran­sient killer whales, mean­ing they feast on ma­rine mam­mals.

L pod — and two other pods, known as J pod and K pod — make up the Southern Res­i­dent killer whales, a group of orcas that eat pri­mar­ily sal­mon.

“That was a big alarm,” Black said. “We nor­mally see the tran­sient type of killer whales; they don’t

over­lap (with Southern Res­i­dent orcas), but they’re in the same wa­ters.”

A FIGHT FOR FOOD

Black said the orcas have been hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time find­ing enough to eat.

“Un­for­tu­nately, they’re literally starv­ing to death,” Black said. “A lot of the killer whales are skinny-look­ing, and sev­eral young ones have died.”

L pod com­ing this far south is “good and bad news,” Black said.

“They’re here, so they have to come so far to find fish, but hopefully, they’re get­ting some fish to feed on,” Black said. “We have in­di­ca­tion that there is sal­mon around, so they seem to be in the right spot.”

Some more good news: Black and her or­ga­ni­za­tion sent pho­tos of the spot­ting to Ken Bal­comb, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Whale Re­search, who con­firmed from the pic­tures that a calf born in De­cem­ber was still alive.

“That was big news for ev­ery­body,” Black said. “Ev­ery­body’s hop­ing the lit­tle ones will make it.”

A ‘LUCKY’ CALF

The calf, L124, has been nick­named Lucky, and is cur­rently the only liv­ing Southern Res­i­dent killer whale calf of all three pods in the group. Black said the calf ap­peared healthy.

Black said other ba­bies born to Southern Res­i­dent killer whales in re­cent years have all died.

Last sum­mer, J35, an orca in the J pod, gained in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion af­ter she car­ried her dead calf for at least 17 days and 1,000 miles.

WHALES ON THE MOVE

If you’re hop­ing to catch sight of the rare killer whales in Mon­terey Bay, be warned: the orcas haven’t been seen in the area since Sun­day, Black said.

“The sal­mon are mov­ing, and the killer whales are mov­ing with them,” Black said.

Black added that they were able to identify the orcas as be­long­ing to the L pod of Southern Res­i­dents be­cause of the dis­tinct mark­ings on their sad­dle patch and dor­sal fins.

One of the whales, known as Ocean Sun, is about 90 years old and ex­hib­ited “spy­hop­ping” be­hav­ior, which means she popped her head out of the wa­ter to look around, Black said.

In­ci­den­tally, Ocean Sun is the mother of Lolita, a cap­tive killer whale at the Mi­ami Seaquar­ium, Black said. Ac­tivists have been fight­ing for Lolita’s re­lease for more than two decades, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­ami Her­ald.

There are 35 whales in L pod, and Black said it seemed like the whole pod was present, though she couldn’t con­firm all 35 were there.

Southern Res­i­dent orcas are “more bubbly and ac­tive than the tran­sient type of killer whales; there’s more spy hop­ping, more breaches,” Black said. “They’re very smart and cu­ri­ous.”

TOMOKO SHIMOTOMAI/MON­TEREY BAY WHALE WATCH

Ocean Sun, a 90-year-old orca in the L pod of killer whales, is seen “spy hop­ping” or pok­ing her head out of the wa­ter on March 31 in Mon­terey Bay.

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