A small group of killer whales visited Southern California waters on New Year’s Day for the second year in a row. In fact, this same group of transient killer whales, from the Monterey area, has made 24 visits during the past 16 months. But this time Eric Martin and was ready for them, with a camera attached to a six-foot-long PVC pole. His incredible footage shows a 2-year-old female swimming upside-down, and a larger male swimming directly to the camera.
“We were eyeball to eyeball. I could have put my hand down and touched it,” Martin said of the closest killer whale, or orca. (Viewers should turn up the volume to hear Martin reacting during this dauntingly close pass.)
The four orcas are part of a family group photo-cataloged by researchers as CA51s. CA51 is the mother and with her were three of her four offspring: two brothers (51c and 51b) and Comet (51d).
Not present on this visit were a second daughter and two grand kids.
The CA51s are sometimes referred to as the “friendly pod” because of their apparent curiosity toward boaters.
The same orca that treated Martin to a face-to-face look–51c, a 9-year-old sprouting male–greeted his vessel with a subtle belly-bump during a visit in early December.
The four orcas were first seen Tuesday by volunteers from the ACS-L.A. Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, which operates from the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the Palos Verdes peninsula.
Eric Martin, a marine biologist, and his son Cody ventured out in their 19-foot boat to search for the orcas after hearing of the sighting. Before long, the orcas were visiting the Martins.
Cody captured the accompanying images and Eric captured the underwater footage with a GoPro camera attached to a six-foot-long PVC pipe.
As Eric was leaning over the rail with his pole-cam, the 9-year-old greeted him with a face-to-face encounter. “My face was only three feet from the orca,” he said. “These orcas, with the flip of a tail, could have easily flipped our boat. It just goes to show how curious and gentle they can be around people.”
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs the California Killer Whale Project, said that most of the 24 visits during the past 16 months, which have represented hunting forays targeting sea lions, were during the winter holiday period. Before then, visits from CA51s were far less frequent.
As for the Martins, their New Year’s Day holiday was one they will never forget.
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