Last summer a pod of orcas were sighted and filmed inside Monterey’s outer harbor, one of the few times they have been seen close to shore in a developed area in Northern California.
On Monday Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch was captaining the Pt. Sur Clipper when she observed a pod of transient orcas west of Moss Landing. She tracked the pod to just outside Monterey harbor, then past the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Pt. Cabrillo, where they turned and headed back to Moss Landing.
During the transit they swam a few hundred yards off Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Observant visitors on the viewing deck would have easily seen them pass by. There were no kayakers or dive boats in the area, but it is not unusual to see them in the same waters the orcas swam through. That would be quite the experience, something you would not forget, a clear reminder that when in the ocean we are not the alpha predator unless we are wrapped in steel.
It’s worth noting that the last recorded attack on a human by an orca happened just a few hours swim south, off Big Sur in the early 1970’s.
Monterey is a magical place. If you see a whale watch boat- about the size of a “party” fishing boat but with more people and no fishing poles- near shore and it is moving slowly with all the people on one side, stop and watch. It’s a good bet they are following whales! I’ve seen minke whales, harbor porpoises, gray whales and Risso’s dolphins in the same general area, and know people who have seen humpbacks and even blues there too.
During the transit they attacked and consumed at least one seal or harbor porpoise, if you look carefully in the image below you can see a shape in the water that is a small piece of something. The kill took only a few minutes.
Individual orcas are easily identified by the pattern of light coloring behind their dorsal fins called saddle patches, nicks and cuts in the dorsal and sometimes by the shape and location of their eye patches.
This pod makes regular visits to our waters, Nancy says they have been sighted as far north as Washington state and as far south as the Mexican border. One male in the group the researchers call “Stubby” has a very distinctive dorsal that was cut off about halfway up. I’ve seen him multiple times, going back as far as 2008. Today he came by the boat and gave us a very good view of his dorsal, as you can see below.