Orca

The apex predator of the sea. The orca or killer whale is the largest member of the dolphin family and we typically get a few sightings of them per year, more-so in winter months. We tend to see them here off the Orange County coast every January and June with other sightings randomly throughout the year. There are different types of orcas, the ones we usually see here are known as transient/biggs type orcas which feed on mammals like whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. One of the most frequented pods here is known as the CA-51 pod which consists of 4 orcas known as Star (matriarch), Bumper (son), Orion (son), Comet (daughter). In Monterey Bay, they are seen more often as well as many other transient type orcas. We also get sightings of "ETP" (Eastern Tropical Pacific) orcas which not much info is known about them but thought that they are typically found to the South off the coast of Mexico and feed mostly on fish, rays, and dolphins, they tend to be more shy than the CA-51's. A pod that was often sighted here was nicknamed "LA Pod" but there has not been a sighting of them anywhere for several years. We also rarely get sightings of offshore type orcas which live mostly farther out in the ocean and travel in massive pods spread out over several miles, they specialize in eating sharks and rays. They are usually travel in pods of about 50-80.

Transient Type Orca

Transient type orcas also known as Biggs Killer Whales named after Dr. Michael Bigg who discovered that there are different types of killer whales before his passing. These types of orcas are who we usually see off the coast of Orange County when they do come around.

Their diet consists of seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales (preferably migrating gray whale calves) although a gray whale predation has not been documented off the Orange County coast. These transient orcas are the largest of the orcas. Their favorite whale of prey is gray whale calves traveling Northbound with their mothers, but off the coast here many predations on sea lions and dolphins have been documented during their brief visits.

Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Killer Whales from the CA-51 pod
Killer Whales from the CA-51 pod
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca
Transient Orca

Eastern Tropical Pacific Orca (ETP)

Eastern Tropical Pacific type orcas also known as "ETP's" show up occasionally off our coast in pods of about 3-8 individuals and have been spotted many times within a mile or two from Orange County's coast. This type of killer whale is not studied as much as transient or resident type orcas and not much is known about their diet or their entire range but is thought to usually be farther out to sea off the coast of Mexico. It's also believed that each of these pods may specialize in different prey and hunting tactics. They are sometimes boat shy and will evade boats if they feel pressured. The way to typically tell these apart from transient type orcas are by their darker saddle patches behind the dorsal fin.

ETP Killer Whales
ETP Killer Whale
ETP Killer Whales
ETP Killer Whales
ETP Killer Whales
ETP Killer Whales

Offshore Type Orca

Offshore type orcas are typically found farther from coastlines which is how they get their offshore name. They are not as studied as much as other types of killer whales like the Southern Resident type found off Washington which prey on salmon. The offshore types feed mostly on sharks, preferably pacific sleeper sharks, they have also been documented feeding on manta rays and opah.

While it is rare to see orcas near Southern California yet alone the offshore type, when they do show up, they'll be in large pods of about 50-80 which is how they travel in sub-groups of about 3-8 and their whole pod being spread out over several miles. these photos were from the encounter off Newport Beach in 2017

Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas
Offshore Orcas