Video: Blue whales delight watchers in California

  1. Closed captioning of: Blue whales delight watchers in California

    >>> for the past few weeks off the coast of southern california , some unusually cold water that's been hanging around and the food that it brings with it has attracted some stunning visitors. blue whales , the biggest creatures on the planet. they were almost hunted to extinction. they're back, and people are watching. miguel almaguer drew the assignment of the day, hands down.

    >> look!

    >> reporter: in the chilly waters off southern california 's coast, the hunt is on.

    >> there's the tail.

    >> reporter: all hands on deck, all eyes on the sea. [ cheers ]

    >> reporter: to catch a glimpse of the world's largest creature -- the blue whale .

    >> watch for the tail.

    >> oh!

    >> reporter: these days, there's been plenty of surprises.

    >> we live on the california coast, but you don't actually see them like this.

    >> like nothing i have ever seen before. they're so huge.

    >> whoa, what's that?

    >> reporter: biologists say the 200-ton mammals are searching for tiny, shrimp-like krill. this is fertile feeding ground.

    >> the krill do well in cold water . last year was the coldest it's been in 30 years.

    >> reporter: the length of a basketball court they can live up to 90 years. blues are graceful, elegant and curious. ten years ago, spotting even one would have been rare. but this year, at least 500 sightings so far. researchers saw blue whales courting.

    >> what we got to see today was off the charts.

    >> reporter: for kayakers, it doesn't get closer than this.

    >> hunted primarily for blubber, blue whales for headed for extinction when they were placed on the endangered species list in 1966 . scientists won't say they are thriving but there are 10,000 worldwide. the big threat now is being hit by ships.

    >> what concerns us though is because they are so close to shore now they are venturing into the shipping channels.

    >> reporter: for stooiss and tourists alike, a reminder of what we almost lost. gentle giants like few have ever seen before. miguel almaguer, nbc news, long beach, california.

NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 9/14/2011 7:15:50 PM ET 2011-09-14T23:15:50

A pod of blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, has been putting on a show for folks off the coast of Southern California in recent weeks.

The pod has been seen in Los Angeles' Santa Monica Bay over the last few weeks and whale watching tours have been filling up as word spreads, NBC affiliate KNBC TV reported . Blues can be nearly 100 feet long and weigh 200 tons.

Researchers have even seen blue whales courting.

Nearly driven to extinction in the 1900s by whalers after their blubber for oil, blue whales are slowly recovering and an estimated 2,500 are thought to travel back and forth along West Coast, though usually much farther out at sea.

On the other side of the U.S., a blue whale was spotted by whale watchers just off the coast of Maine last Sunday, NBC affiliate WHDH TV reported .

A local whale expert theorized that the whale was near the coast following krill, the shrimp-like crustaceans that make up its diet.

The last sighting in New England waters was three to four years ago, added Sean Todd, chairman of marine sciences at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

While recovering, blue whales like other whale species still face two key threats: entanglements in commercial fishing lines, and being hit by ships, including those from nearby Long Beach harbor.

"Because they're so close to shore now they're venturing into the shipping channel," Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the American Cetacean Society told NBC News.

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