On Saturday, June 7, 2014 a pod of pilot whales, including mothers and newborn calves, paid an extremely rare visit to Southern California. Passengers and crew aboard Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point, California, were out on one of their regular dolphin and whale watching excursions expecting to see a huge herd of dolphins and maybe a fin or blue whale. Instead they were surprised and thrilled to encounter a pod of around 50 pilot whales! During the encounter a curious mom and calf came up to window of underwater viewing pod and looked at the people in pod.
Pilot whales have not been seen in Orange County waters for over twenty years! “When I was making my film on the whales and dolphins in this area pilot whales were like the Holy Grail,” Capt. Dave explained. “ I tried and tried to find some and I could not even find anyone that had seen any since the late 80s. Every time someone called me with reports of pilot whales in the area I went after them and they always turned out to be false killer whales or risso’s dolphin. This is amazing and truly a rare sighting. With squid now being plentiful in the area I can only hope that this sighting may mark the return of Pilot Whales to this area.”
Pilot whales disappeared from the area about 30 years ago after an El Nino event caused the squid population to go way down and scientists don’t know exactly why they’re not here anymore as there are plenty of squid now. About the time pilot whales left, risso’s dolphins began appearing. Pilot whales, like killer whales, are a member of the dolphin family. They love to eat squid but they will consume fish too. Pilot whales are large with adult males averaging around 18 to 20 feet in length. They’re second in size only to killer whales and are highly intelligent.
Update: According to Alisa Shulman-Janiger with the American Cetacean Society – Los Angeles Chapter (ACS/LA) pilot whales were seen regularly off of Catalina Island through January 1984. The last confirmed sighting of these animals off Southern California was in 1996.
In the News
KTLA’s Chip Yost was live in Dana Point Harbor for a live interview with Capt. Dave about the incredible pilot whales sighting: http://video.ktla.com/After-20-Year-Absence-Rare-Pod-of-Pilot-Whale-Spotted-Off-OC-26243127?playlistId=12087#.U5Z1P1dFYV8
Orange County Register article: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/whales-617578-pilot-whale.html