*Note: Click here for an updated list, posted July 10.
California's summer whale-watching season has begun, and many are on lookout for gargantuan blue whales, which spend parts of summer and fall gorging on krill. Not to be overlooked, however, are numerous smaller whales and dolphins. But among these thousands upon thousands of cetaceans, only a small number truly stand out, so we've compiled a list of what tourists might watch out for during their next ocean odyssey.
5 whales, dolphins to watch for off California:
Hook (blue whale, pictured above)
The peculiar shape of this mammal’s tail fluke, most likely the result of a birth defect or an orca bite early in life, has inspired many nicknames. But “Hook” is the name that stuck, and when Hook is sighted news spreads rapidly via social media. Last summer, when Hook remained off the Los Angeles area for several days, one whale-watching business was ferrying media out for a look. Hook loves to raise its tail fluke high into the air before deep-water dives, and that could be because the mammal needs the extra body push downward to make up for the lack of power in its fluke. Spotted from San Diego to Monterey. Click for video.
Patches (offshore bottlenose dolphin; pictured above)
Name needs no explanation. Easy to spot among its gray pod members. Coloration ranges from various shades of gray, to pink and white. Spotted sporadically beginning in 2006, mostly off Southern California. Often seen with 50 to 100 ordinary bottlenose dolphins. Typically boat friendly. Spotted last week off the Los Angeles area. Click for video.
Delta (blue whale; pictured above)
Another mammal made famous by the shape of its tail fluke, the ends of which are turned upward like winglets on an airplane wing. First known sighting was 1987 in the Gulf of the Farallones west of San Francisco. Early on, most sightings were off northern Central California, but in recent years Delta has favored Southern California waters. Click for video.
Chopfin (killer whale, pictured above)
Easy to discern because of its square and tattered dorsal fin, which was damaged several years ago, most likely, as a result of a net entanglement, and later shredded, most likely, by a boat propeller. Researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger calls him the poster boy for human interaction involving fishing gear and boat propellers. "But it doesn't handicap him," the researcher said. Spotted as far north as Washington and as far south as Southern California, but is usually seen off Monterey.
Kinko (blue whale, pictured above)
A large female named because of a distinct kink on the left side of her fluke. Also boasts distinct markings on her back, but easiest identification is when she reveals her fluke during deep dives in search of krill. Kinko is a mom; she was spotted in 2011 with a calf. Another crowd favorite. Spotted last week off Dana Point. Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Whale Watching, said Kinko loves to fluke off the Dana Point headland. Click here for video.
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