Orca-stra Ensemble : Killer Whales Off Laguna Beach Steal Spotlight From Migrating California Grays

The Southland whale-watching season officially began Thursday, and it got off to a killer start.


Passengers aboard the Sea Horse out of Dana Wharf Sportfishing were greeted by five orcas, or killer whales, that were "just milling about" a mile off Laguna Beach, according to Marc Mills, assistant manager at the landing.

As of Thursday afternoon, the orcas were slowly headed south and were last seen off the San Clemente Pier.

Last season, orcas frequently stole the spotlight from the migrating California grays, sometimes in pods of dozens.

So excited was the whale-watching crowd to see them that a few foolish individuals even jumped in (from private boats) to swim with the powerful cetaceans, prompting an outcry from some observers, claiming this was harassment. Not to mention dangerous.

As for the grays heading down the coast on their seasonal migration from the Bering Sea to their nursing grounds in the Baja California lagoons, they have been showing up sporadically for the last 10 days and are expected to be passing through in force for a week or two.

"We had a couple of grays, but they were in tight, close to shore," Mills said Thursday. "And that was probably because the orcas were outside. They seem to alter the behavior of all marine mammals, especially the sea lions, which completely disappear when the orcas show."


The Iceman hauleth . . .

Borge Ousland, the 24-year-old Norwegian who set out in October to become the first person to ski across Antarctica alone, is ahead of schedule and making tremendous strides atop the blustery bottom of the world.

He dragged his sled full of supplies into the research base at the South Pole on Dec. 19, midway into his 1,675-mile journey and well ahead of his Christmas Day goal. After a short visit, it was back into a totally white world, where temperatures drop to 40 below and winds reach 100 mph. He is hoping to reach McMurdo Base on the Ross Sea sometime before the end of January.

Ousland was forced to turn back while making a similar attempt last year, just after passing through the South Pole. He had severe frostbite on both thighs. So far on this trip, he remains in good health--he covered nearly 100 miles one day--and in good spirits, according to supporters back home.

"Through the web site [www.sol.no:80/ousland/] his team in Norway held a contest," said Julie Wellik of the San Francisco-based Communications West, which is handling local media information for Ousland's adventure. "The person who guessed the date of Borge's arrival at the South Pole won their choice of either a Sector Sport Watch [Ousland's sponsor] or a side of hog. I guess meat in the freezer over a Norwegian winter is better than knowing the time."


For those who think Ousland is a little crazy, now comes word of a Frenchman who will place himself in what is basically a balloonlike powerless submarine and live in it, alone, for 80 days as it drifts with the currents of the Indian Ocean.

Guy Delage, 44, the first person to swim across the Atlantic--covering more than 2,000 miles in 55 days from the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa to Barbados in the Caribbean Sea--will launch the self-designed 35-foot, 24-ton, floating observatory from Sumatra, Indonesia, in mid-January.

The vessel, which will give him a fish-eye view of the remote Indian Ocean from 22 feet beneath the surface, has no engines or sails and will be at the mercy of the wind and currents.

Delage, whose progress will be monitored through sophisticated electronics and satellite equipment, says he is embarking on this journey in the name of science as well as adventure.

"During the trans-Atlantic swim, I realized how limited our knowledge of the marine world is," he said. ". . . Through the Ocean Observer project, I hope to make my own small contribution by extending our knowledge of the ocean environment and increasing public awareness of the importance of safeguarding it."


For the record: A news release from the Silverwood Lake Recreation Area incorrectly stated last week that bald eagle tours are being conducted at Silverwood Lake this winter. But because the lake is being drained for earthquake retrofitting of out-flow towers, no boats are allowed on the lake and no tours are being conducted. Lake officials, however, have installed a telescope on the lake's shore and the public is invited to view the eagles from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Details: (619) 389-2303.


Baja bite: Cabo San Lucas at Christmas would not be the same without a trip to the Golden Gate, a fishing area named for a landmark resembling the famous bridge.

It is this part of the Pacific, dozens of miles north of the Cabo San Lucas harbor, where striped marlin congregate by the thousands each winter. This winter is no different, according to Bob Smith at Minerva's tackle store in Cabo.

"Last week was slow only because we had no customers," he said Thursday afternoon. "But now, all the homeowners and condo owners have come in and all the boats are getting out--and fishing is wide open. Each boat is getting five to 10 marlin, so fishing is crazy."

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