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California coast sees wave of sperm whales

This photo from Capt. Dave Anderson shows a sperm whale off the the coast of Dana Point, Calif., on Monday. (Associated Press)
This photo from Capt. Dave Anderson shows a sperm whale off the the coast of Dana Point, Calif., on Monday. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. – More than 50 sperm whales emerged off the Southern California coast in an extremely rare, hours-long sighting that had whale watchers and scientists giddy with excitement.

Pods of mothers and juveniles rolled and played with dolphins Monday a few miles off Laguna Beach, the Orange County Register reported. They later were spotted off San Diego and were heading south, said Jay Barlow, a sperm whale expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s by far the largest group ever spotted so near to shore in Southern California, Barlow said Tuesday.

“I’ve been counting whales and been on the water for 35 years. We’ve never had a large group like this ever,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project.

The massive mammals were spread out over an area of up to 3 square miles and came within inches of boats, said David Anderson, who operates Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari sightseeing tours.

Sperm whales are the huge, toothed creatures mentioned in the novel “Moby Dick.” They were hunted nearly to extinction for oil in the 1800s. The whales weigh up to 45 tons and eat about a ton of squid a day. Usually, only one or two adult males show up each summer or fall, while large groups of females normally are found in warmer waters, Barlow said. However, this year has seen a lot of warmer water close to shore, he said.

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