Blue Whales Amass Off an Orange Coast

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Veteran whale watchers and sports-fishing operators report dense numbers of blue whales--the largest animals ever known to have existed--frolicking off the Southern California coast, from Santa Barbara to southern Orange County.

Thank our unseasonably cold weather: chilly water favorable to the shrimp-like krill that the whales consume have drawn the behemoths south from their usual hangout off Monterey.

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National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Crowds have moved off OC's frigid beaches and onto whale-watching boats to catch sights like this.
Pete Thomas, the former outdoors writer for the Los Angeles Times, blogs that Dana Point's Dana Wharf Whale Watching and Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari have been converging on the same blue whale clusters just three miles off the coast, with a crew from the latter company saying it spotted 21 blue whales on Thursday.

The Christopher crew out of Long Beach logged 17 sightings one day last week.

While the heavy presence of the heavy beasts--blues whales can top the scales at 150 tons--is great for lookiloos, the sea mammals' close proximity to shore does concern wildlife officials.

Jim Milbury, a public affairs specialist with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, previously informed about the dangers posed when some of the 2,000 blue whales who swim in the waters off California in the summer and early fall follow the krill into shipping lanes: 

Blue whales typically feed on these tiny shrimp-like animals far offshore where there is less chance of contact with commercial vessels.

Despite their enormous size, blue whales are no match to withstand the impact from massive commercial ships that make their way along these traffic routes, especially when they are feeding close to the surface.  And while the whales are typically able to avoid large ships, at least three animals washed ashore from injuries related to vessel strikes.

Milburn was particularly concerned about the blue whales wandering into one of the world's busiest shipping lanes between the Channel Islands and the coast of Santa Barbara--another area Thomas said is brimming with the mammals right now.

To help keep the whales safe, various federal agencies coordinate flights to determine where they are feeding and communicate with port authorities that can pass that information along to cargo ships. National Weather Service broadcasts let smaller recreational vehicles know about the presence of feeding blue whales.

Speed limits are often adjusted to give the whales a fighting chance.

Whale-watching fleet operators hope conditions remain ripe to maintain the heavy presence of blue whales off the local coast for several more weeks. Reserve your spot now if this interests you.


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