Monterey Bay Whale Watch - February 2011 Feature


Fish-eating (Resident) Killer Whales
Sighted in Monterey Bay on Feb. 10, 2011

By Nancy Black, Marine Biologist and Owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Click on small pictures below to see full-size photos.

Monterey, CA. Today, February 10, 2011, members of the endangered group of Resident Killer Whales were spotted by Monterey Bay Whale Watch, headed into Monterey Bay along the deep submarine canyon. The group consisted of "L Pod" a family group of 40 individuals, part of the population of Southern Residents consisting of J, K and L pods. These whales spend most of the year off the San Juan Islands in Washington State feeding on salmon in the inland waterways. These whales have been recently listed as endangered as their population has decreased most likely due to a reduction in their primary food source, Chinook salmon. Today's afternoon group of whale watchers were absolutely thrilled as our boat searched north along the canyon edge for gray whales, most common at this time, but instead our naturalist, Lori Beraha, spotted a distant splash, nearly 2 miles in the distance. It turned out our captain, Richard Ternullo, had navigated the boat right towards the Resident Killer whales, which were seen the day before off San Francisco. Our friend and colleague, MJ Schramm who works for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, called us after she received a report about the whales off San Francisco and sent a photo, which confirmed they were the Southern Residents. We were hoping they might be headed our way and luckily were correct! Several passengers said it was a trip of a lifetime for them and they never imagined they would see so many killer whales!

Nancy Black, marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch first sighted and identified the Residents in Monterey Bay during the winter of 2000 and these whales have been sighted at least once in Monterey Bay each winter since then. Nancy has been researching three different populations or types of Killer Whales in Monterey Bay for nearly 25 years. These three types of killer whales include:
1) "mammal hunters" or "Transients" that are found in small matrilineal (adult female with offspring) groups, feed only on marine mammals from seals to whales and are frequently sighted in Monterey Bay with a larger range along the west coast;
2) "fish hunters" or "Residents", specifically the endangered Southern Residents (J, K, and L pods) that feed only on fish and venture in outer waters as far south as Monterey Bay during winter, and occur in larger family groups up to 90 whales; and the least known
3) "Offshore Type" , found in large dispersed groups (50+), composed of one population that ranges along the entire west coast, and feeds on fish, sharks, and squid.

Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, a location where the Southern Residents occur nearly daily during summer months, has been a guest of Monterey Bay Whale Watch over the last several days in his hopes of spotting the Residents in Monterey Bay. Although Ken is known as the "father" of killer whales as he has studied them longer than anyone and has followed this particular group of whales since 1976, resulting in the longest study of any whale population in the world, he has never seen them off our coast in winter. His house even sits in a prime location on the coast of Friday Harbor to spot the whales as they travel back and forth during summer feeding on salmon. When Ken first started his study, salmon were very abundant but have since drastically decreased in numbers, causing strong concern for the survival of the killer whales depending on them. Since Nancy first sighted these whales in 2000 in Monterey Bay and they were not seen previously, it appears that the whales expanded their range into new waters in search of their primary prey.

Ken said after getting off our boat today, "Thanks Lori - for first spotting them, and, thanks L Pod for being perfectly on schedule. Wow! This is the first time I have seen the Southern Residents in California but I hope not the last. We must collect prey and fecal samples in the future encounters." Ken has tried for several years to sight these particular whales in the winter, as he needs to learn more about their winter feeding habits. Since these whales are endangered, it is of critical importance to study them year-round to determine if they are successfully finding prey, what type of prey they are catching and if that prey population is abundant enough to support the whale population. What is clear now is that Chinook Salmon numbers are drastically low everywhere along the west coast due to habitat destruction and water diversion and if the whales are to recover then strong measures need to be implemented to protect the salmon. Monterey Bay Whale Watch strongly supports researchers such as Ken and provides information to many researchers from information gathered on our whale watching trips to help in the effort to learn more about various populations of endangered whales.

Click on small photos below to see enlarged photos taken today (Feb. 10) by naturalist Lori Beraha. Check our sightings for daily updates, as we will continue to monitor these whales and post our sightings.

Killer Whale L55 in Monterey Bay

Killer Whale L55
  Killer Whale L5 in Monterey Bay

Killer Whale L5
  Killer Whale L79 in Monterey Bay

Killer Whale L79
Killer Whale with Calf in Monterey Bay

Killer Whale with Calf
  Killer Whale with Calf in Monterey Bay

Richard Ternullo, Lori Beraha,
Ken Balcomb & Nancy Black


Related Articles

Southern Resident Killer Whales in Monterey Bay Southern Resident Killer Whales Sighted in January and February 2008 in Monterey Bay

Photo at left taken by Nancy Black in 2008. Click for larger image.

Southern Resident Killer Whales Sighted in Monterey Bay in March 2003

Killer Whales from Puget Sound Observed in Monterey Bay in February 2000

Related Website

Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor


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Photos © Lori Beraha / Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Last updated February 11, 2011