A pod of about 40 or 50 false killer whales were spotted early Thursday only a mile and a half from the entrance to Newport Harbor, the third sighting in just 24 hours of the rarely seen mammals.
The false killer whales, which are actually the third largest member of the dolphin family, put on a show for those on a whale-watching trip.
"Being out here for so long and seeing a species I've never seen before, it's quite an experience," said Kane Curran, 25, who grew up in the area. "It could very well be something I don't see ever again."
A captain for Newport Beach-based Davey's Locker Sportfishing & Whale Watching, Curran first heard about the whale sightings when he took out an 11 a.m. tour Wednesday.
Other enthusiastic boaters reported over the radio that the dolphins, which normally dwell in tropical waters, swam near the Dana Point shoreline — a bit too far for Curran to travel before picking up his next trip at 1 p.m.
Steering the Ocean Explorer out of the Newport Harbor with his next group, Curran said he knew he couldn't miss what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"We headed down the coastline as fast as we could," he said.
Curran said he found the pod near Laguna Beach and followed them back up the coast to Crystal Cove. The false killer whales, which can grow to be 20 feet long, swam around and under the boat, seemingly unafraid, Curran said.
On a third trip, which departed at 3:30 p.m., Curran said he tracked down the mammals again near the Newport Beach Pier.
He said the false killer whales appeared to be turning and were heading south when he last saw them Thursday.
"You never know," he said. "They could turn around again."
While there are no official records, Curran said it appears the last sighting of false killer whales off the Orange County coast was in 2001. Before that, they had not been seen since the 1970s, he said.