San Diego

Marine Ecologist Says Whale Population May Be Growing Because of Marine Mammal Protection Laws

Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and one of the ocean's top predators

The La Jolla Cove, typically known for its abundance of sunbathing sea lions, was visited by a different type marine mammal not known to frequent the top tourist destination. 

A pod of about five orcas was spotted swimming into the La Jolla Cove Wednesday afternoon, delighting tourists and locals who caught a glimpse of the huge mammals. 

"It was pretty amazing," said Anne Carter, who shared footage of the whales with NBC 7. "My family is visiting from Virginia and I couldn’t have planned a better lunch."

In one video, shared with NBC 7 by Instagram user dolphindronedom, the pod of killer whales can be seen surrounding and swimming underneath a small fishing boat. The user said the video was captured near Sunset Cliffs.

Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and one of the ocean's top predators.

"We protect marine mammals now, so there's lots more seals and sea lions and dolphins and whales offshore for these animals to feed on," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Ecologist Bob Pitman said.

He said the protection of animals further down the food chain has led to an increase in their population, which could be fueling the whales' growth, too.

"In the 50 years I've lived in San Diego you could go years without a single killer whale report and it does seem like there's more of them now," he said.

Pitman called them "intensely social" and "very intelligent" creatures.

"Killer Whales have never been documented killing or harming a human except in captive situations," he added.

The black-and-white whales typically prefer the colder water of the Pacific Northwest but it is not uncommon to see them in much of the waters around the world, including the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, according to SeaWorld.

While killer whales swim in open waters, they forage in shallow coastal waters, sometimes in just a few meters of water, so it is not uncommon to see them near the coast, according to SeaWorld.

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