California

A pod of killer whales — with a new calf — swims into Monterey Bay for the first time

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Killer whales frolic off the Central California coast.
(Colleen Talty / Monterey Bay Whale Watch)

Two families of killer whales made their first appearance in Monterey Bay this week after a recent wave of orca sightings in the area.

On Monday, whale watchers saw the pod of eight killer whales, which typically are seen in more northern waters of the Pacific Northwest. They alerted Monterey Bay Whale Watch, which sent a team to confirm the mammals were transient and hadn’t previously been seen in the area.

Colleen Talty, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch who saw the killer whales earlier this week, said everyone was excited because of the rarity of the sighting.

“The whales were sky-hopping and coming over to the boats,” Talty said. “Everyone in the area was sitting in neutral and just watching these animals just be so happy. It was a really incredible experience.”

Nancy Black, another marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, said this pod has never been seen off the Central California coast.

“I’ve been studying the killer whales here for over 30 years, and the ones we’ve seen [in Monterey Bay] are identified,” Black said. “It would be very unusual to see two different families that we’ve never seen before in all these years, so they probably haven’t been here before.”

Black said the whales tend to be seen most often in the Pacific Northwest during the summer months. That makes their appearance in Monterey Bay even more unusual, though killer whale sightings have been more common in the area recently.

“They came at a time when we’re having a lot of killer whale sightings,” Black said. “We’ve had, exceptionally, many days of killer whale sightings at this time of year when we usually wouldn’t see killer whales this often.”

Black thinks the increase may be because the animals are searching for food. Fewer gray whale calves — which the killer whales eat — were born this year, and the gray whale population is seeing a high number of deaths, in part due to starvation.

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Whales travel in family groups, Black said, and Monday’s sighting showed two adult whale mothers leading the pod. One mother, identified by marine biologists as T34, was traveling with her daughter and two grandkids. The second mother, known as T37, was traveling with her two children.

There also was a young whale with the group that had never been seen by whale experts but was believed to be the child of one of the adult mothers.

“It was exciting to see a little calf,” Black said.