LONG BEACH — Long Beach resident Ted Magnuson glanced out the window of his home north of The Breakers a little before noon Monday and saw something he’d never before seen: dorsal fins of a pod of orcas breaking through the waves just offshore.
Magnuson, who has lived at the beach for three decades, hurried to his spotting scope and had to adjust its focus because the killer whales were so close in, swimming in the general vicinity of some crab-pot buoys.
The sighting was later confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, thanks to a tag on one of the whales that is monitored via satellite.
Brad Hanson of NOAA said on Tuesday, “likely southern residents as K25 (satellite-tagged whale) was about three miles off Long beach Peninsula yesterday” when the satellite passed by.
The southern residents are the smallest of four resident orca communities in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. It is the only killer whale population listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is currently protected under the Endangered Species Act as of 2005. There are a total of about 90 individuals in the Southern Resident community.
Unlike other resident communities, this group of orcas is only one clan (J) that consists of three pods (J, K, L) with several matrilines within each pod. Each matriline consists of a female, her sons and daughters and the offspring of her daughters; averaging anywhere from one to 17 individuals and one to five generations within each of these matrilines, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of NOAA.
Orcas aren’t uncommon in the Columbia River plume during salmon migrations. They are occasionally even spotted inside the Columbia River estuary, with its rich density of smaller marine mammals and fish that the whales prey upon. But this is the first time in recent memory they have been seen so close to the seashore.