Video: Ultra-rare 'false killer whales' sighted off California coast
Forget celebrity sightings, a boat of whale watchers off Orange County's Dana Point got a once-in-a-lifetime view of a pod of rare marine mammals called false killer whales Wednesday.
The animals were caught on video as they swam around the boat managed by Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching.
False killer whales are a type of dolphin: their scientific name is Pseudorca crassidens. They got their common name because they are similar in size to orcas and also have pointy teeth.
Jay Barlow, a fisheries researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says he last saw this species in Southern California in the early 1980s, though there have been some reports it was seen in 2005.
Normally they live in tropical waters, and Barlow says even there they are rarely seen.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this species is that they have what Barlow describes as a "very tight group structure" that involves sharing food.
He points out in the video you can see a whale holding a Yellowtail fish in its mouth. He says false killer whales sometimes pass their catch between every member of the pod before anyone is allowed to take a bite.
“I’m sure its a test of group cohesiveness to be able to do that no matter how hungry you might be," Barlow said.
It's a social act occasionally seen in groups of killer whales as well, but not in many other species.
One reason false killer whales are seen so rarely is that they typically live in the open ocean, sometimes swimming a hundred miles a day.
They prefer warmer waters, so Barlow says it's likely these false killer whales wandered up the coast following prey.