California school children get surprise viewing of rare ‘false killer whales’ on field trip

A pod of “false killer whales” made an unexpected visit to the Orange County coast Wednesday, delighting school children on whale-watching tours as the mammals romped through the waves and circled a boat.

The rarely seen whales, last reported off Orange County in 2005, were spotted by the crew of the Sea Explorer from the Ocean Institute in Dana Point late Wednesday morning off San Clemente. About 70 children from Brywood Elementary School in Irvine saw the whales in two separate trips on the vessel, 35 children each, and the whales put on a show.

“At one point when they stopped, they encircled the boat, some of them coming up against it and rubbing on the hull,” said the Sea Explorer’s captain, marine biologist Mike Bursk. “And of course the kids were going crazy.”

One of the whales also took a deep dive and returned with a large white sea bass clamped in its jaws, Bursk said.

The large, boisterous members of the dolphin family, usually found much farther out to sea, drew other vessels, including a boat from Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari.

Capt. Dave himself – Dave Anderson – got close-ups of a curious false killer whale when he went out alone in an inflatable boat and thrust a GoPro camera into the water.

“All of a sudden, one just came right over, and he was right next to my hand,” Anderson said. “I was getting a little bit nervous, because these guys are carnivores.”

The creatures seemed to investigate everything about the boat, including the motor, he said.

“If you look at the video, you can see how long that animal stayed there, turning upside-down and checking out the camera,” he said.

A group of children from San Juan Elementary School aboard the Dana Pride from Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, also got a good view of the whales, passing up a gray whale in order to see them, said Todd Mansur, the boat’s captain.