Killer whales in San Diego

How often are killer whales spotted in San Diego and what brings them to our waters? We’re here to tell you all about the black and white wonders of the sea.

a little bit about orcas 

About the species

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are actually the largest member of the dolphin family! They are found in every ocean of the world, and are the most recognizable marine mammals. They usually specialize in foraging behavior to prey on their food, and use a coordinated hunting strategy to work as a team.  

RIsks and endangerment

Historically, killer whales were targeted by hunters and fishermen. This is due to commercial hunting and culling to protect fisheries from them. Also, live capturing of these mammals for aquarium displays and marine parks continues to happen all across the globe. Because of these factors there have been many efforts to establish habitats, set protective regulations, and restore prey stocks for the conservation of  killer whales. 

Behavior and diet

Killer whales are very social and live in large pods, consisting of 20+ animals. They rely on underwater sound to feed, communicate, and navigate. They do this through whistles, clicks, and pulsed calls. Each pod has their own set of calls, and are learned and passed on among individuals. This serves as family badges and group cohesion. Their diet is determined by the hunting tactics specific to each ecotype. Additionally,  they are considered apex predators eating at the top of the food web. 

Killer whales in san diego  

This winter we’ve had the rare pleasure of spotting this species in our Southern California waters! Let’s talk about what brought them here. 

Every winter, gray whales migrate from the West Coast all the way down to Mexico to breed. However, this winter we got a rare appearance of killer whales in San Diego! The whales were part of the Eastern Tropical Pacific group of orcas and are usually found off the coast of Mexico and Central America. 

It is hard to know exactly why we are seeing killer whales in San Diego. However, it may be due to the fact that we are experiencing unreasonably warm weather conditions, or that their main prey (the bottle-nose and common dolphins) are in abundance here. While dolphins are their usual prey, the killer whales spotted in San Diego were going after a much larger mammal. The pod on the water off of Point Vicente was seen hunting a gray whale by tiring it out and working in teams. 

While hunting is their priority, we have also seen this pod exhibiting a lot of play behavior with the boats. This has flooded the waters with people to get a glimpse of them. Swimming in the wake of the boat, jumping, and mugging the boat (stopping and turning to stare at the boat) are all ways that these orcas have been interacting with whale watchers here in San Diego. 

Come along for a sea of surprises! 

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