Nobody knew what the young killer whale was saying to astonished whale watchers Sunday off Monterey, Calif. "But he sure was saying it," states the naturalist who videotaped the extraordinary encounter.
In the accompanying footage, captured by Katlyn Taylor of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, an adolescent male orca issues a loud and adorable greeting after swimming to within feet of the vessel, Sea Wolf.
It's not rare for orcas to communicate among themselves with loud vocalizations underwater. But it's extremely rare for the social mammals to communicate directly with boats, with above-surface vocalizations, which this orca seemed to have been doing.
"It almost sounded like he was yelling something to the boat, which I think he was doing," Alisa Schulman-Janiger, co-founder of the California Killer Whale Project, told GrindTV. "I've seen him do that before, but for not nearly as long."
The Bigg's (transient) killer whale was one of four family members involved in Sunday's encounter. He's scientifically cataloged as CA51C, and nicknamed Bumper. With Bumper was his mom CA51, or Star; older brother CA51B, Orion; and younger sister CA51D, Comet.
They're among at least 90 Bigg's killer whales to have visited vast Monterey Bay this spring – a record number – to feast on smaller marine mammals, such as elephant seals, sea lions, harbor seals, dolphins, and even baby gray whales, according to Schulman-Janiger.
What sets the CA51 group apart from others, however, is its curiosity toward humans. The CA51s for years have been known collectively as the "Friendly Pod."
In December 2012, the group was in Southern California feeding on common dolphins. Schulman-Janiger was aboard a 19-foot boat with Capt. Eric Martin.
This was the day Bumper earned his nickname, after he swam up and turned on his side, and gently bumped the boat, whose engine was turned off.
"That was the third time he bumped a boat that I was on," Schulman-Janiger said. "I thought, OK, something is going on here."
Taylor's video clip, posted to Facebook on Monday night, had garnered more than 32,000 views by late Tuesday morning, and was shared hundreds of times.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the comments were in reference to this being a wild event, versus orchestrated shows in marine parks.
Reads one such comment, from Dora Tamez: "This is definitely on my bucket list for my next vacation. What a beautiful sight to see them in nature and not in some tank."
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