Spotting the distant spray from a blue whale is enough to send shouts of joy across the bough of Capt. Dan Salas' tour boat. But that pales in comparison to what comes next: an up-close meeting with the 100-foot-long creature.
"I was thinking this must be the best day of my life," says whale watcher Tammy Lang.
And possibly the luckiest day, too. Because the rule around Los Angeles is that after Labor Day, nothing this big and this blue is supposed to be in this water.
"Something's changed in the ocean," says Salas. "These blue whales should not be here in the numbers that are here, feeding right off of southern California."
And not just feeding after Labor Day, but feeding here at all. The blue whales usually just pass through southern California on their migration route, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes. But these beautiful creatures, who eat about four tons of tiny shrimp-like krill every day, have been here all summer. And that's really odd because they usually prefer to dine off California's central and northern coasts, where krill is normally much more abundant.
"On many trips, we saw more than five, six whales at one time, which is just unheard of. We've never seen that," says Salas.
The abundance of these creatures has made for amazing sightings, but trying to figure out why they're here has become a whale of a mystery.
"It's possible that this is in response to some greater thing that's happening because of global climate change, it could just be a variation in a natural cycle," according to Dave Bade of the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Whatever the reason they're here and, like all southern Californians, they now have to deal with killer traffic. They're feeding right in the middle of the congested shipping lanes of the busiest ports in the nation. Already, the consequences for a female whale was deadly.
"There is bruising on the backside of the whale, which leads us to believe that there has been impact with a ship or a boat of some kind," says Easter Moorman of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Scientists are hopeful that, like people, the big blues can somehow adapt to the dangerous L.A. traffic patterns - that is, if they continue to call southern California their new summer home.
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