Orca research coordinator Josh McInnes was shocked to see about 25 members of the southern resident orca L pod in California coast waters. (Courtesy of Josh McInnes)

Southern resident orcas spotted off the coast of California

Victoria researcher shocked to see killer whales so far from home

A Victoria-based killer whale researcher ran into some familiar friends while studying in California.

Josh McInnes, currently a research coordinator at Marine Life Studies in Monterey, has been studying killer whales around Vancouver Island since he was 12-years-old. So he was surprised, to say the least, when he recognized the rounded dorsal fins, open saddle patches, nicks and scars of a local southern resident orca pod off the coast of Monterey, California.

On the morning of March 31, McInnes and other researchers were on a designated killer whale survey outside the southern part of Monterey Bay, looking for transient whales. Instead, they ran into L pod.

“We saw spouts and tall dorsal fins, there were two big groups coming real fast – about 11 knots – toward us [and] they came up right past our boat,” he recalled. “Growing up off Vancouver Island and spending a lot of time with resident killer whales, I knew right away it was L pod.”

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Dolphins befriend killer whale off B.C. coast

With only four recorded sightings of L pod in California, McInnes was shocked to see about 25 of the familiar whales so far from home.

“My jaw just dropped,” he said. “My first thoughts were, ‘Wow we’re in a very cool situation here.’”

L pod is part of an endangered population of about 74 killer whales found typically off of Southern Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound. He was able to properly identify 18 members of the 35-member pod – including calf L124 (Lucky), the baby of L77.

Josh McInnes, currently a research coordinator at Marine Life Studies in Monterey, identified 18 members of a southern resident orca pod off the coast of Monterey, California. McInnes says critical habitat areas might need to be extended to protect the whales. (Courtesy of Josh McInnes)

He said Lucky seemed healthy and was keeping up with her mom.

RELATED: New orca calf in Salish Sea ‘healthy and active’

He thinks the pod might have been searching for food such as endangered pacific salmon, and says the sighting indicates there might be a need to extend protected habitats.

“For me it indicates there is a changing ecosystem,” he said. “We should look into extending critical habitat to areas outside of Washington and B.C.

The outer coast might be an area they rely on.”

While it’s unclear what the sighting means for the pod, McInnes won’t forget the shock of seeing those friendly fins off the coast of California.

“I came down to Monterey to study another type of orca completely, I never expected I would see them, I think that hit home,” he said. “There’s so much we still don’t know about killer whales.”

READ ALSO: B.C. scientist gives life to panicked wild whales

READ ALSO: UPDATED: Conservation groups sue Ottawa to protect endangered killer whales

McInnes located calf L124 (Lucky) with mom L77 among the L pod whales he located off the coast of Monterey, California last month. (Courtesy of Josh McInnes)



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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