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Large number of blue whales seen off Southern California coast

September 2, 2010 |  6:03 pm

An unusually large number of blue whales off the Southern California coastline is providing marine mammal enthusiasts with a rare opportunity to see Earth’s largest creatures lolling in the waves and spewing misty plumes.

On Thursday, 77 amateur whale watchers on an excursion boat operated by the Aquarium of the Pacific and Harbor Breeze Cruises in Long Beach spotted five blue whales and three fin whales in less than three hours.

“Dead ahead!” a woman yelled as a blue whale emerged under a spout 15 feet high, then arced slowly back into the water. Then she muttered, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”

It is not uncommon for blue whales to pass through the San Pedro Channel. But the large number of the cetaceans — averaging 80 feet to 100 feet and 150,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds — has not been seen in recent years.

“A year ago, we were lucky to see three or four blue whales per trip,” said Michelle Sousa, senior biologist at the Aquarium of the Pacific. “Now we’re seeing up to 15 per trip, along with a few fin whales thrown in for good measure.”

Scientists cannot say for certain why blue whales are showing up in such large numbers, however Sousa suggested they are following vast clouds of krill — tiny, shrimplike crustaceans and a mainstay of the whales’ diet.

-- Louis Sahagun off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula