Rare sightings of blue whales -- believed to be the largest animals ever to have lived on Earth -- have been made this week a few miles off Long Beach.
"There's only one whale that big, and that's a blue," Dan Salas, captain of the Christopher, a sightseeing boat based in Long Beach, said Friday. "I've been in this business 25 years, and that's what we saw today."
Friday's sightings were made in the San Pedro Channel, a few miles off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
"It's not unheard of, but it's an exciting event," said Ed Cassano, a sea life expert at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.
Cassano and Marilyn Padilla, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, said that although blue whales often congregate in the Santa Barbara Channel at this time of year to feed on krill, they seldom spend as much time in the San Pedro Channel as they have this summer.
"It's unusual for them to be feeding around here at this time of year," Cassano said. "They must have found major concentrations of krill" -- small, shrimp-like crustaceans that are the main food of blues and other baleen whales.
Adult blue whales average between 80 and 100 feet in length and weigh between 150,000 and 300,000 pounds. To feed, they lunge at dense concentrations of krill, taking in as much as 15,000 gallons of food and water in a single mouthful.
They need about 1.5 million calories a day to satisfy their energy requirements, the aquarium said. To maintain their weight, they consume about 40 million krill -- almost 4 tons of the tiny crustaceans -- every day.
Despite their size, blue whales can swim up to 30 mph.