A huge group of killer whales, almost two dozen of them, have been see congregating off the coast of San Francisco. Experts say that they are likely gathering to celebrate a successful hunt for sea lions or seals and have been spotted by whale watchers in the area.
“I screamed ‘orca!’” recalled Michael Pierson, a Oceanic Society naturalist leading the tour, after noticing “those distinct dorsal finds poking out of the water,” writes The Associated Press.
“It was really, really special,” Pierson said in an interview Wednesday.
The big group of whales was seen on May 7 near the Farallon Islands, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of San Francisco. Killer whales are more commonly found around the deep ocean canyon beneath Monterey Bay — about 75 miles south of the city — and can be spotted anywhere from the coastline to just 5 miles off shore, according to Nancy Black, a marine biologist and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch.
“They’re the whale that most people want to see when they go whale-watching,” she said, “you just don’t know when they’re going to be around.”
Black, who is also the director of the nonprofit California Killer Whale Project, said she’s seen larger groupings of orcas than last month’s two dozen but added that any sighting is special. As she spoke, she watched five swim together in Monterey Bay.
An unusually large pod of orcas for Northern California — roughly two dozen — was spotted by a whale watching tour off the coast of San Francisco, possibly gathering to celebrate a successful hunt for sea lions or seals. https://t.co/GWealpFwkH pic.twitter.com/in4Bt43qrn
— ABC News (@ABC) June 8, 2023
“Orcas are ambush feeders that rely on quiet conditions so they can sneak up on their prey, typically traveling in groups of just three to seven individuals,” some naturalists have explained. “The peak of the gray whale migration season does occur in the last week of May, leading Schulman-Janiger to hypothesize that the orcas could have been looking for a mother and calf to hunt, but for such a large group to do so would be uncommon. However, she speculated the pod may have also come together because they had heard a strange noise in the distance or were simply socializing. Certain whales, she said, can be more inquisitive than others and are interested in looking for new areas to explore.
‘We know they form long-term friendships and associations, but there’s no way for us to know what they’re getting out of it,’” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, lead research biologist with the California Killer Whale Project and Monterey Bay Whale Watch.
Over the past few years orcas around the world have strayed away from their “Free Willy” friendliness with humans, however. One “traumatized” orca has apparently trained a group of killer whales in Europe how to attack ships.
People magazine writes, “Reports of aggressive encounters between orcas and sailboats in the Iberian coast off of Europe began in 2020, according to Maritime Executive, and the incidents have ramped up since then.
Killer whales have since sunk three boats there, targeting the rudders of sailboats less than 15 meters in length, according to Live Science, which reported that ‘experts now believe the behavior is being copied by the rest of the population.’
In a May 4 incident in the Strait of Gibraltar, a group of three orcas pierced the rudder of a sailboat. ‘The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side,’ the boat’s skipper, Werner Schaufelberger, described to German magazine Yacht, per Live Science. ‘The two little orcas observed the bigger one’s technique and, with a slight run-up, they too slammed into the boat.’
Everyone on board was rescued, but that boat ended up sinking when it returned to port.”
The attacks have only intensified over the past month. Business Insider remarked that there have been at least 20 incidents between orcas and sailboats over the past month.