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PHOTOS: 'Superpod' of 5,000 dolphins and endangered fin whales spotted off Long Beach

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A megapod of common dolphins swim off the shores of Catalina Island.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A fin whale swims off the coast of Los Angeles. These whales can get up to 70-feet long and weigh up to 150,000-lb, making it the second largest animal on earth.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

The Aquarium of the Pacific, seen behind the boats, is located in Long Beach and keeps careful track of the fin whales that come to visit the nearby waters.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Birds hang out in the Long Beach Harbor.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Dan Salas, the CEO of Harbor Breeze Cruises, explains that the fin whales are currently near Los Angeles because of the abundance of krill, small crustaceans.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A sea lion raises a flipper off the coast of Los Angeles.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A crew member from the The Aquarium of the Pacific gets ready to take off on a Harbor Breeze Cruise for whale watching.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

Over 5,000 dolphins swim off the coast of Los Angeles on January 16th, 2013.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan

A Marine Biologist shows krill, left, small crustaceans that whales eat with their baleen, right, plates that filter food from the water.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

A family listens to marine biologists explain the rarity of the fin whales, which are the second largest mammal on the planet.

Fin Whale Watch Long Beach

Mae Ryan/KPCC

The fin whales and dolphins swim near Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles.


A rare "superpod" of dolphins formed this week off the coast of Southern California not far from the shipping lanes — a treacherous aquatic crossroads where ocean life collides with port traffic.

Forming a true animal collective, an estimated 5,000 or more protected sea creatures showed up to protest the deadly "ship strike" zone, or possibly just to feed on the squid invasion.

KPCC spotted the frolicking cetacean convergence around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday in the waters off Long Beach past Rainbow Harbor.

Pods of Pacific white-sided dolphins were seen consorting with crews of common dolphins to create a widespread, fast-moving circus of jumps, spins, dives, and other acrobatic water feats.

We encountered the dolphin party while out searching for an 80-foot whale (on a 65-foot boat) as part of a Harbor Breeze excursion to learn about the elusive, endangered creatures recently seen in the area.

The shockingly large concentration of dolphins was an unusual sight, according to experts on our fully surrounded vessel.

RELATED: Take Two —Rare large pod of 23 gray whales spotted off SoCal coast

A conspiracy theory might say the animals — in sea creature solidarity against ship strikes — were gathered to plan something unprecedented. A conspiracy theory might suggest that we did not stumble upon their swim-in, but rather, that they were waiting for us. We already know they can mimic our speech (and that they think we sound like idiots.)

Other creatures tolerated our presence as we continued to cruise for fin whales. From their floating positions, sea lions lounged and waved us through the mercifully wave-free water. A sleeping elephant seal even directed the boat quietly by way of its bobbing head.

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Captain Jennifer Williams with the U.S. Coast Guard accompanied our early-morning educational ocean voyage, along with marine mammal biologists from the Aquarium of the Pacific and NOAA. We did not share our conspiracy theories with them. Instead, we asked about endangerment and how it's assessed.

Marine biologist Monica DeAngelis with NOAA explained that it's not a population threshold that qualifies an animal for endangered status. To make that determination, experts take a global look at the numbers and examine reproductive rates, sex ratios, prey, climate, and other environmental hazards.

Fin whales, DeAngelis said, are still endangered, however "our stock" — comprised of California, Washington and Oregon fin whales — has been increasing annually. Blue whales, she said, have not seen the same improvement.

Ship strikes and entanglement are the biggest threats to the second largest animal on the planet, says DeAngelis (the same dangers exist for blue whales, gray whales and others).

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Our finally found fin whale created a smooth, slick-looking water patch just before surfacing for us near the Whiskey Buoy — directly in path of one of the shipping lanes.

The endangered creature can swim up to 19 miles per hour and is sometimes referred to as "the greyhound of the sea," according marine mammal biologist Kera Mathes with AOP. They rarely show their tails when making a deep dive, and once they go under, the massive creatures can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.

The International Maritime Organization recently approved plans to re-route traffic off the California coast in an effort help to protect endangered and migrating blue, fin and humpback whales from deadly ship strikes.

VIDEO: Blue Whale tagging to prevent ship strikes

Lane modifications, crafted by NOAA with support from the Coast Guard and the shipping industry, changed the approach to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and in the Santa Barbara Channel. DeAngelis told KPCC the lane changes were a tangible way they could help "reduce co-occurrence" in "high density" areas.

Aquarium visitors with a Gray Whale Watch combo ticket can take their own conservation-minded ocean excursion. View the exhibits and then hop a Harbor Breeze double-decker that's docked next door.

The nonprofit Aquarium of the Pacific is dedicated to environmental education. Its vision is to create a sustainable future for nature and its resources by building relationships between and among people. The Aquarium is home to over 11,000 animals in more than 50 exhibits. Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram

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