Photos were taken Jan. 24 of from nine to 15 orcas swimming in the open water between the Farallon Islands and San Francisco.
Although killer whales have been seen off the coast before, researchers believe some five dozen or more individuals are now regularly leaving their historic habitat in the Puget Sound area for the abundant waters near the Golden Gate.
"It's exciting for us because they traveled so far to get to California, which means they can travel farther than people thought to find food," said Nancy Black, a marine biologist and whale expert for Monterey Bay Whale Watch. "Before, it was just transient (orcas) that have been seen in Bay Area. This is something unusual."
Ken Balcomb, senior scientist and founder of the Center for Whale Research, which has tracked the pod in Washington for 30 years, said the whales, including a mother and calf, were positively identified through the photos as members of a family group called "K-pod."
Based on observations made a little over a week earlier off Half Moon Bay, Balcomb believes that members of "L-pod" are also in the vicinity. If they are, it would mean that as many as 63 whales could be spread out over 30 miles around the Farallones.
The animals make up two of the three pods of the southern resident killer whale population, which provide thrills every summer for whale watchers in the Pacific Northwest as they follow salmon toward the rivers where the fish spawn.
The whole article is really interesting so be sure to read the entire thing.
Photos credit: dejahthoris used with Creative Commons license
Update: I couldn't resist one more passage
The killer whale, or Orcinus orca, is the largest species of the oceanic dolphin family and is found in all the world's oceans. Males can reach up to 31 feet long and weigh 8 tons. They are one of the fastest marine mammals, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph. Individuals can be identified by the shape and coloration of a saddle behind the dorsal fin that is as unique on each whale as a fingerprint is on a human.I had no idea orcas were in all the world's oceans. Even the Indian! Bizzare.
Highly intelligent and social, orcas generally travel in matrilineal family groups, but within those groups there are vast differences. Some orcas feed on seals and sea lions and others feed on other whale species. There are also transient orcas that feed mostly on sharks. None of them are considered a threat to humans.