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Huge blue whales put on show off Calif. coast

Dozens of blue whales have been surfacing recently off the coast of Southern California, treating both tourists and locals to quite a show.

The blue whale is Earth's largest creature, stretching the length of a basketball court and weighing as much as eight airplanes. Still, CBS News Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, spotting a blue whale in the ocean is rare.

But for the past few weeks, a pod of blue whales has been moving closer to shore just south of Los Angeles.

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Craig Stanton, of Voyager Excursions, a whale watching tour company, said the whales have been within one to two miles of land.

"We get a few stragglers that get within a few hundred yards of the mouth of the harbor," Stanton said. "It's to the point where we get paddle boarders and kayakers getting alongside of them, which is pretty unique."

Since word got out, tour boats have been packed.

Whale-watcher Tim Hammond has been out to see them three times, trying to capture that perfect photo.

Hammond said, "We had four whales at one time, so it was just amazing."

He says each sighting offers a new surprise.

"One went under the boat and scared all of us, but we just had a great time today," Hammond said.

It's a scene that couldn't have happened just a few years ago, Kauffman said. Blue whales were hunted almost to extinction. They are still considered endangered, with only 8,000 to 9,000 in all the oceans of the world.

In the exact same spot at the exact same time last year, nearly 200 surfaced along the coastline in search of their favorite food, a tiny shrimp called krill. Experts believe colder water temperatures are creating a perfect harbor for krill and, as a result, these gentle giants.

One whale watcher said, "It was incredibly amazing. I never thought I'd see a whale in my lifetime. Honestly, it was just breathtaking!"