Hundreds of Blue Whales Spotted Off Calif. Coast

A blue whale off California's coast.

A show is unfolding off California from Santa Monica Bay to Newport and anyone can watch. All you need is a sturdy boat and a healthy sense of awe.

Off the coast of Southern California, the hunt is on for a rare, up-close look at the largest creature on earth, the 90-foot-long blue whale.

"They're massive, they're huge!" said whale watcher Elizabeth Branscombe.

In recent weeks, the big blues have been putting on a whale of a show.

"This is as good as it gets out here," said whale watcher Martin Hochman.

They're fluking and frolicking with their young.

"I've been working on the water for 23 years right now and this is the first time I've ever seen a congregation of blue whales like this," said Captain Brad Sawyer of the "Voyager" whale watching boat.

These massive whales have made a huge comeback, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker. They were nearly hunted to extinction 50 years ago. Now more than 2,000 of them spend their summers off the California coast.

Veteran whale watchers say they've never seen so many so close to shore.

"About 200 or more blue whales between Santa Monica Bay and Newport which is very unusual," said Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the American Cetacean Society.

They're here for the seafood buffet. The whales eat tons of tiny, shrimp-like krill every day.

"There are massive amounts of krill. And not only a lot of krill in different areas but it's concentrating at the surface, so these blue whales are spending a lot of time at the surface and very close to shore," said Schulman-Janiger.

It's also cause for concern. The whales are swimming near some of the nation's busiest shipping lanes. In the past three years, at least six have been killed by ship strikes.

Scientists want to know why so they're rushing out to sea to tag and track the whales.

"There's a hint that they actually come and spend more time near the surface when they perceive a threat and so our concern is that might make them more vulnerable to ship strikes," said John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research.

On board whale watching ships, the reaction is pure delight. Three-year-old Isabella Branscombe has a new favorite activity: whale spotting.

"The whale's coming!" she said.

The show won't last forever. The whales could high-tail it out of these waters any day.