I saw killer whales for the first time!

One of the killer whales I saw

I’m thrilled to say that I had the chance to see killer whales this past Thursday. This was a first for me, I’ve never seen killer whales in the wild before and the entire experience blew me away.

Before launching into what happened, I should explain that I’ve never understood people’s fascination with killer whales. At all the whale conferences I’ve attended, the killer whale researchers are the “cool people” who everyone wants to talk to. I’ve met many people who talk endlessly about killer whales, travel to see killer whales in the wild and are pretty much obsessed with killer whales.

But what’s all this fuss about? I mean don’t get me wrong, I realize killer whales are cool. They are the top ocean predator after all, they sport an unequaled sleek black and white exterior and they are crazy smart. But are people forgetting that some killer whales prey on gray whale calves? That doesn’t seem very sportsmanlike, preying on the helpless and weak. I know, I know, that’s nature…but still…that always rubbed me the wrong way.

Now that I’ve seen killer whales in the wild…I get it. Now I understand people’s obsession with killer whales.

Here’s what happened. On Thursday, I absolutely had to go whale watching. I hadn’t been out on a boat yet, even though it’s almost a month into gray whale watching season. I tried to go whale watching Thursday morning on the Voyager in Redondo Beach, but it just didn’t work out with other projects I needed to get done. Thursday afternoon was looking good though, there has to be a boat going out somewhere…so I called Harbor Breeze Yacht Charters and Cruises in Long Beach to see if they were headed out for some whale watching. Affirmative. They go everyday at 12pm and 3pm. Excellent, sign me up for 3pm.

I rushed down to Long Beach and make it in time to be the first person in line. The 12pm trip returned and I see friends on board looking very excited. “What did you see?” I yelled. One of my friends held up her hand in the shape of an “0.” Oh crap I thought, they saw “0” as in zero, nothing?! No, the “o” stood for orcas, I was very excited.

One of the oil rigs I was happy to see

The 3pm group hustled onto the boat ready to see orcas. We learned from the crew that they were really far out by the oil rigs, which is about 9 miles offshore. Oh man I hope they are still there, it would be awesome to finally see a killer whale! The boat sped towards the oil rigs, I never thought I would be happy to see an oil rig…but on Thursday I was. Watching the oil rigs loom into view meant we were that much closer to the killer whales.

And there they were…a huge pod of killer whales. Hooray!

It was hard to get a handle on how many whales there were because they were spread out over a large area. Naturalists on board with the Aquarium of the Pacific estimated that there were 30 to 40 killer whales. We saw a couple moms with their calves up close and a large male.

What’s most amazing about seeing killer whales in the wild is feeling the raw natural power they emanate. There’s nothing quite like it that I’ve experienced before. In the the presence of killer whales, it becomes clear that they truly are the ocean’s top predator, they rule the seas and graciously accept us as guests, but they could just as easily choose not to.

And yes, I’m addicted now. I finally get it.

(Note: I’m still going through my photos and will post more soon. In the meantime, if you would like to read more about this offshore group of killer whales, check out this article that ran in the Los Angeles Times.)

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  1. […] my first and thus far only experience seeing killer whales in the wild. This is a direct quote from the post I wrote after seeing them: “What’s most amazing about seeing killer whales in the wild is feeling the raw natural […]

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