Whale watchers were pleasantly surprised by a sighting of pilot whales off the Orange County coast Friday, a rare occurrence within the past few decades.
Once commonly seen off of Southern California, the breed of short-finned pilot whales have virtually disappeared from the area after a strong El Niño year in the early 1980s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
However, passengers and crew out on three separate boats with Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari in Dana Point spotted the whales on Friday, which numbered between 50 and 200, said Captain Dave Anderson.
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He also reported seeing pilot whales in June of this year.
The whales’ entire population throughout California, Oregon and Washington is currently estimated at only around 300, the NOAA says.
The whales, which average about 18 feet in length and more than 2,000 pounds, prefer warmer temperatures and areas with a high density of squid to feed on.
Anderson said it's been a unique time for sightings across the board, including sharks, fish and sperm whales not usually seen in the area.
"I can't remember having so many (sightings)," Anderson said. "It makes for an incredible year."