A drone pilot has captured rare and stunning footage showing a Bryde's whale swimming three miles off Newport Beach, Calif.
Bryde's whales are more commonly found in tropical waters – they're often referred to as tropical whales – but small numbers of these whales have appeared off Southern California for three consecutive summers.
Mark Girardeau of Orange County Outdoors was aboard one of two boats being run by Newport Coastal Adventure last Saturday when he spotted the Bryde's whale (pronounced Brood-us), and sent up his camera-fitted drone.
His footage is unique in that it shows this rare whale species from the air – note the three prominent ridges on its head; all other whales boast only one ridge – and because it shows two free-swimming dorado, which were spotted nearby. (The whale and fish were videotaped during separate flights.)
Dorado, also called mahimahi, also are rare off Southern California. They appear only during summers marked by unusually warm water, and these were among the first to be documented this summer.
Sea-surface temperatures for the past three summers have soared well into the 70s in some areas, thanks to a prolonged "warm blob" phenomenon, and the more recent El Nino. This has lured several tropical or subtropical species of fish and mammals far north of their typical range.
The sightings of Bryde's whales have occurred primarily off Orange County. The first known sighting this summer was June 18 off Dana Point, by passengers with Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari, and Dana Wharf Whale Watch.
According to whale researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, other sightings occurred June 24 (Harbor Breeze Cruises, Long Beach), July 5 (Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari), and July 9 (Newport Coastal Adventure).
Girardeau told GrindTV that the dorado were less than a quarter-mile from the Bryde's whale. "I noticed a fin sticking out of the water so we went to check it out," he said. "I thought it was a sleeping swordfish but it ended up being a Mola mola [sunfish], and the dorado were right there with the Mola."
Schulman-Janiger, who specializes in identifications, told GrindTV that the Bryde's whale in Girardeau's video is the same whale seen by Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale-Watching Safari passengers on July 5.
Overall, the researcher added, during the past three summers about 20 individual Bryde's whales have been documented off Southern California.
That's notable because according to NOAA's most recent estimate, only 12 Bryde's whales are known to inhabit waters from California to Washington.
Obviously, the federal agency is overdue for a revised estimate.
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