Killer whales take a "vacation" off SoCal coast

Southern California is a destination for celebrities of all shapes and sizes. And in the last few days, that has included a group of killer whales. CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan in Redondo Beach looked into why.

We found Alisa Shulman-Janiger where she spends nearly every day -- on a bluff looking through binoculars and counting the whales that pass by.

"It's behind the boat, directly to the right of that boat," she said.

A trained biologist, she is used to seeing gray whales and humpbacks in these waters, but not this: A group of killer whales -- two families in fact -- suddenly appeared off Southern California this week. It's a rare sight this far south -- that had her squealing with delight.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, what kind of day was this for you?" Cowan asked Shulman-Janiger .

"Ahh, a 25!!" (laughs).

She took pictures of the killer whales -- so near, she could almost touch them.

"Eye to eye with the top predator in the ocean?" she asked. "It sort of gives me a chill down my spine. It's incredible."

Because she's a researcher, Shulman-Janiger is allowed these up-close encounters to help document and identify individuals -- as well as figure out whey they're here and why they're staying.

One theory: the La Nina weather pattern which has kept the waters here cooler than usual -- more like Monterey Bay to the north where killer whales are normally found.

One of the main reasons they're here are California sea lions. Their population has been steadily increasing since the '70s. And as cute as they are, they also make quite a buffet.

"What they may have done is come down sort of for a family vacation, found the pickings are easy, the restaurants are open, and then brought some friends with them," said Shulman-Janiger.

With news of the killer whales arrival, tourist boats leaving from Redondo Pier are packed and there isn't a bad seat aboard. Just ask Bill Hatcher.

"You see them in captivity and in the movies or something," he said, "but it's nice to see them in their own habitat."

They seem to be as curious of us, as we are of them.

"Never gets old?" Cowan asked Shulman-Janiger.

"Never gets old. Come back tomorrow!" (laughs).

We just might.

  • Lee Cowan

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