At first glance, Dana Wharf captain Tommy White thought the marine mammals in the distance were dolphins, a regular sight off Orange County’s coastline.
But he soon realized it was a much rarer sight: A pod of black-and-white orcas were hanging out just a few miles from Laguna Beach’s coastline.
“That’s something different,” he recalled thinking. “We don’t see them very often.”
And in a way, even his first guess as to what he was seeing was right. Orcas are actually a type of dolphin, the largest member of the Delphinidae family, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
They are found in every ocean in the world, and are the most widely distributed of all cetaceans, according to NOAA.
But when they’ll show up is anyone’s guess.
Killer whales, as they are commonly called, are an uncommon sight in local waters. The last documentation of killer whales this close to the coast was in 2019 when a pod of Eastern Tropical Pacific orcas hunted dolphins for days, putting on a National Geographic-like display just off the shoreline.
This was a different species of orcas spotted on Thursday, Dec. 2. They were first noticed about 1:30 p.m. about four miles off Laguna Beach’s Abalone Point by White and his crew, who alerted other whale watching companies about the appearance.
Word spread fast among orca enthusiasts who rushed to see the apex predators off the coast.
“They are the most amazing animal we have out here,” said Donna Kalez, manager for Dana Wharf. “There’s nothing more awesome than to see orcas in the wild.
“People love killer whales, and if they can get a chance to see them in the wild, that’s something on people’s bucket list,” she said.
But if you miss them, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stick around, she said. “They are always elusive.”
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