Three orcas were spotted about a mile off Point Vicente on Thursday afternoon, according to a post from researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger on the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles chapter Facebook page.
One of the orcas was identified as a CA39A, otherwise known as "Hopper." Schulman-Janiger, who is part of the California Killer Whale Project, identified the whale via a photograph taken by Captain Carl Mayhugh aboard the Christopher from Harbor Breeze Cruises.
The California Killer Whale Project catalogs individual orcas based on their distinct markings.
According to Schulman-Janiger, CA39A often travels with her mother and sister; she speculated that those may have been the other two orcas observers saw.
Until Thursday, these killer whales had never been photographed south of the Santa Barbara Channel, Schulman-Janiger said.
The orcas were also spotted harassing common dolphin off Terranea, according to observers.
Earlier this month, a pod of killer whales was sighted just off Catalina Island; however, later whale-watching boats, including the Redondo Beach-based Voyager, were unable to find the pod.
Transient orcas, also known as Bigg's killer whales, are rarely spotted in Southern California, though sightings have increased in recent years.
The diet of the transient orcas is one reason why the large dolphins may have ventured down to Southern California, Schulman-Janiger told Patch earlier this month. Killer whales can eat about 500 pounds—or 5 percent of their body weight—daily and swim up to 30 miles per hour.
Transient orcas have also been known to attack baby gray whales.
Southern resident orcas, on the other hand, live in Puget Sound off Seattle and British Columbia. They were first documented in Monterey Bay in 2000, and have been sighted there most winters since 2003, according to Schulman-Janiger.
"This year, satellite-tagged resident orcas got as far south at Pt. Reyes several times," she said. "It is thought that they are making regular excursions down the coast to forage for salmon, since salmon have become more scarce in northern waters in recent years."
See attached video for an animated view of the movements of southern resident killer whale K25 from late December through early March. He was tagged as part of a study between the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Cascadia Research.