This summer’s shaping up to be another boon year for blue whales off the coast of San Diego, thrilling whale watchers like the photographer who just had a close encounter of the boat-tipping kind.
Sea creatures are in the news for another reason. Local beach-goers have sharks on their minds in the wake of Saturday’s attack on a swimmer along the coast of Los Angeles County.
Here are four things you should know about the creatures in the sea this summer.
Blue whales are on the march again.
In the past, the winter was the best time for whale-watching off the San Diego coast because of all the gray whales heading south. But the summer has become a hot whale-watching season over the past several years thanks to all the blue whales passing through.
“They typically move their way up the coast and stop where they can find food. You can have 1,500-2,000 off shore during the summer months,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a whale researcher based in Los Angeles, during a break before heading out on two whale-watching excursions there on Monday.
This summer is looking like it will be another banner year.
“Blue whales are coming up the coast in very large numbers, with more than 15 spotted a couple days ago,” she said. “More than 100 blue whales have been seen in Mexico north of San Martin Island, and it looks like they’re heading up the coast.” (San Martin Island — Isla San Martin — is near San Quintín, about four hours south of San Diego.)
“Blue whales are all about food,” she said, “and there are miles of krill off San Diego.”
Other whales appear to be heading this way to escape the warm waters near Baja California. False killer whales, a kind of dolphin, appeared off Los Angeles last spring for the first time since 2001, Schulman-Janiger said.
An El Niño weather pattern may be forming along the Baja California coast. El Niños mean warmer waters in the Pacific Ocean, potentially forcing more sea animals to head to colder waters to find krill, the crustaceans they eat.
No, a whale’s not likely to upend your boat.
The misadventure off the coast last week wasn’t exactly like a scene out of “Moby Dick.” The whales weren’t angry, and Herman Melville didn’t concern himself with the safety of expensive cameras.
But it was harrowing enough. A pair of blue whales in search of food rose to the surface and overturned a whale-watching boat, sending a photographer and a captain into the drink off the coast of San Diego.
Photographer Dale Frink kept his priorities straight, as he told News 8: “I said to myself, ‘Dale, just do what you can, keep yourself safe, but if you can save that camera, save the camera!’”
The captain and passenger were rescued. They’re both fine, if bruised and rattled, although Frink’s cell phone may be at the bottom of the ocean. The whales are fine too. “It was an accident, the one in a million risk that you take when going into the deep ocean on a small boat,” Frink writes on his blog.
Frink’s video of the capsizing has gone viral, appearing on news sites throughout the world. He’s already working to protect the video from being used and sold without his permission.
Should you worry about this happening to you? Nope, said Schulman-Janiger, although it’s smart to be cautious around whales and be aware of where they are so they don’t surprise you when they seek food by lunging out of the water.
Shark attacks are still extremely rare.
The shark attack off Manhattan Beach over the weekend is distracting swimmers at local beaches and spawning discussion about the role of fishermen. The victim, a 50-year-old man, is recovering from the attack by a young shark that got caught on a fishing line.
Fisheries research biologist Heidi Dewar tells NBC 7 that the threat from younger sharks is lower here than in Los Angeles County: “The type of habitat we have is sort of less ideal for baby white sharks or juvenile white sharks than farther north like Long Beach or Huntington Beach, or Ventura flats. They really like big broad sandy areas and bays, which we have less of down here.”
However, the shark attack at Manhattan Beach is said to be the first in Los Angeles County in more than a century. We have a more extensive and more recent history of shark attacks.
In 2008, a shark attacked and killed a North County veterinarian who was swimming with fellow triathletes off Solana Beach. A shark killed a diver off La Jolla Cove in 1959, reportedly swallowing him whole. And the 1994 death of a young woman has been blamed on a shark, although there are questions about whether she may have actually been murdered.
If a shark hurts you, hurt it back.
Several kinds of sharks live off shore. Most sharks are harmless, and only great whites attack without being provoked.
To avoid a shark attack, don’t wear jewelry (it may sparkle like fish) and don’t wear bright contrasting colors (they may draw a shark’s curiosity).
Opinions differ about whether you should flee or stay put and fight if a shark does attack. In a 2011 interview, former San Diego lifeguard chief Chris Brewster advised against outrunning a shark — it lives in the ocean, after all — and instead suggested giving it a whack on the snout. If it means business, you should too.