San Diego

Killer Whales Surprise Watchers Off San Diego

A group scanning San Diego’s coast for gray whales spotted a much rarer sight: a pod of killer whales.

Growing up in the area, whale watcher Skip McKenzie said the only orca sighting he had heard of was at SeaWorld. But as he sailed off on a tour Saturday, he kept seeing something white pop out of the water about a mile off Point Loma.

McKenzie whipped out his camera as boat owner and Captain Van Barr moved in to investigate.

“Everyone was just excited and ecstatic, going, ‘There’s no way we caught something like this,” McKenzie said.

It wasn’t until he loaded his pictures on his home computer that he got a good look at the orca pod. About 20 photos, which he swears are not edited, show the killer whales breaching the ocean surface, swimming in a tight group of five or six.

“They looked like killer whales to me,” said Barr, “and the head shape and all that stuff suggested killer whales, but we weren't absolutely certain until Skip emailed us the pictures that afternoon.”

Why the whales were this far north is still a mystery. After he posted the pictures on Facebook, a marine researcher reached out to McKenzie.

She told him the pod is most likely made up of Eastern Tropical Pacific killer whales, which typically live off Mexican shores.

“[The experts] don’t know if they’re following the food, following the gray whales because some of the whales are birthing on the way down, and they’re killer whales. They’re going to hunt the grays,” said McKenzie.

The researcher said she is almost certain this is the same pod spotted near Laguna Beach on their way back to Mexico earlier this month.

“People wait their whole lives to get photos of a killer whale,” McKenzie said in awe. “They spend thousands of dollars and go on these excursions, and here we are just out for the day, and they come to us.”

“It was an amazing day.”

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