50+ sperm whales sighted off San Diego coast
In a very rare occurrence for the aquatic mammals, upwards of 50 huge sperm whales were seen off the Southern California coast this past week. For several hours oceanographers and tourists were able to watch the giants moving quickly southward. Several groups, called pods, of mother whales and their offspring could be seen frolicking with each other and with dolphins.
First sighted in the Laguna Beach area of Orange County on Monday the 6th, the whales moved south and were next seen from the beaches of La Jolla. This group of sperm whales has been noted as the largest number of the animals seen off these waters for at least the past 35 years. The huge mammals moved together while dispersed over an area close to 3 miles square. They came very close to several sightseeing boats as their heads surfaced from the water.
The sperm whale, whose nomenclature name is Physeter macrocephalus, is also known as a cachalot. At 45 tons, they are the biggest whale with teeth, and the largest predator on Earth with teeth. Sperm whales are the only existing members of the Physeter genus. They are the type of whale described in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, and were very nearly killed to the point of being extinct at the time of the novel, in the 1800’s. They were (and still are in some places) hunted in order to procure their oil, which was widely used at the time. They are still classified as “vulnerable” to extinction.
These magnificent oceanic beings usually hunt for food (around one ton of squid a day for each whale) in deep waters, diving as far as three thousand feet deep. Seeing such a large assembly of the whales this close to the shore is very unusual and a bit puzzling to the experts. The sperm whales toothless cousins, gray whales, are often migratory tourists to the California coast, but seeing more than one or two sperm whales is an exciting rarity.