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World's largest animals visit So. Cal. waters

/ Source: NBC News and msnbc.com

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.