A pod of orcas—a rare sight in Southern California—was spotted late Monday morning about 3-4 miles off Catalina Island's Emerald Cove; however, a later whale-watching trip on the Redondo Beach-based Voyager failed to locate them.
The Christopher, a whale-watching vessel out of Harbor Breeze Cruises in Long Beach, saw the orcas—commonly known as "killer whales," though they are the largest members of the dolphin family—at about 11 a.m. Monday.
"They were headed toward Point Vicente" in Rancho Palos Verdes, said Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project, which catalogs individual orcas based on their distinct markings.
The transient orcas were first spotted off the Orange County coast over the weekend, according to the Facebook page for the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles chapter.
Transient orcas are distinguished from resident orcas, which are more commonly found in Northern California, by their diets. The transient killer whales, also known as Bigg's killer whales, eat small mammals like seals and sea lions, while resident killer whales primarily eat fish.
The diet of the transient orcas is one reason why the large dolphins may have ventured down to Southern California, according to Schulman-Janiger. Killer whales can eat about 500 pounds—or 5 percent of their body weight—daily and swim up to 30 miles per hour.
The orca matriline designated CA51 was first spotted in Malibu in 2007.
"They are all about food," said Schulman-Janiger. "They love sea lions, and we have got a lot of them."
The CA51s have been spotted off the South Bay multiple times since then. Schulman-Janiger said the group may have gone back to Northern California and brought other pods to Southern California's rich feeding grounds.
"I also personally think that they have the explorer gene," said Schulman-Janiger. "Just like people have the explorer gene, I think these whales (CA51) do, too."