Off Newport Harbor, 7-09. © John  C. Avise.

Blue Whale

Balaenoptera musculus

Cetacea; Balaenopteridae

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Fin, off Newport Harbor, 7-09. © John  C. Avise.

Spout. Off Dana Point, 7/21/08. © Peter J. Bryant.

Off Dana Point, 7-09. © John  C. Avise.

Blowhole, off Dana Point, 7-09. © John  C. Avise.

Flukes. Off Dana Point, 7/21/08. © Peter J. Bryant.

Remoras on back of whale. Off Dana Point, 7/21/08. © Peter J. Bryant.

Off Dana Point, 7/21/08. © Peter J. Bryant.

Fluke, off Newport Harbor, 7-09. © John  C. Avise.

Southern California gets the Blues!

From the August 2008 Newsletter of the American Cetacean Society, Orange County Chapter
By Peter Bryant, ACS/Orange County

The biggest animal ever to have lived on Earth, the Blue whale Balaenopteramusculus, is now just a few miles offshore, in numbers that seem to be increasing every year. There are so many out there that you have a good chance of getting a close-up view in a half-day whale watching trip! The pictures in this issue of the newsletter were taken on 21 July 2008, on a trip with Capt. Dave’s Dolphin Safari out of Dana Point harbor (949-488-2828 - dolphins and sea lions are also seen on these trips).

Blue whales created great excitement in the early 1990’s when they showed up in Northern California , near Monterey and the Farallon Islands , but after a peak year in 2004 with 405 sightings, their numbers in that area have been declining, with only 15 sightings in 2006. Over the same period, Blue whale sightings in Southern California have been on the increase, starting with one sighting in 2000, 3 in 2001, and 10 in 2002. But in 2003 there was a dramatic increase to 74 sightings, followed by 110 in 2004, 51 in 2005, a record 440 in 2006 and 283 in 2007. So far this year Capt. Dave’s has logged 64 sightings, starting on May 18 - Check Capt. Dave’s web site for updates! Blue whales have also been spotted regularly (63 sightings so far this year) on trips from Long Beach run by Harbor Breeze Cruises (800-900-8188 or Newport Beach Tours at 866-797-9502).

The experience in Northern California shows that Blue whale visits can be temporary, so don’t miss this unusual chance to see the largest animal that has ever lived! The largest Blue whale on record was 108 feet long and weighed about 170 tons, but this one was on the deck of a whaling ship. These animals are really difficult to measure in the wild! There is at least one calf in the current group being seen off Dana Point.

Blue whales were long considered to be mainly a Southern Ocean species, feeding on massive quantities of the large Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba). But apparently the whales can forage in many different parts of the world’s oceans, feeding on other smaller members of the krill family. An individual Blue whale can consume up to 4 tons of krill a day!

One of the whales from July 21 has an interesting collection of Whale suckers or remoras (attached commensal fish) on her back, just forward of the dorsal fin. The pictures are not good enough to identify them to species, but the species usually found on Blue whales is Remora australis.

The Blue Whale population is estimated at 5-10,000 in the Southern Hemisphere and 3-4,000 in the Northern Hemisphere, down from an estimated 220,000-350,000 before they became the favorite prey of commercial whalers. More details can be found on the ACS Blue whale fact sheet: