Those who were out on the water off Orange County, California, recently may have seen an “ultra rare” and “seriously awesome” sighting. A local boating crew has reported seeing a small pod of sperm whales, an endangered species that the crew says is rarely seen in the area off Laguna Beach. 

Crew members with Newport Coastal Adventure first reported the whales on June 4, saying they saw three of the animals feeding. 

“This is something that might happen once a year if you are lucky,” the company wrote on Facebook. “Our top notch crew did a great job spotting and tracking these rare creatures into the sunset allowing 3 boat loads of passengers to experience a ‘bucket list’ sighting.” 

Then they saw them again just days later, when a crew left Newport Harbor around 4:45 p.m. They had been looking for a blue whale, but instead saw “45 degree angled spouts, blowing off the head of several sperm whales.” Those spouts are the animals’ blowholes, they said, which are known for having a “unique placement…on the side of the head.” 

At that time, all the whales seemed to be eating in different spots and weren’t spending much time on the ocean’s surface. But when they finished, the whale trio got together to provide “an awesome show of flukes high in the air,” crewmembers said. 

That sighting prompted them to go out to the area again the following day. And it was during that excursion that they got another sense of the massive creatures. Using a specialized hydrophone, they picked up the sounds of sperm whales communicating, about 30 miles out from Newport Beach. 

Based on their recordings and location, the crew determined the whales had traveled more than 20 miles from where they were seen the evening prior. 

Before these events, the last time Newport Coastal Adventure crewmembers saw sperm whales was in November of 2022. 

“These animals spend most of their time very far from shore, and are only rarely seen within range of trips departing from Newport Beach,” they said. “Newport Coastal Adventure has a track record in recent years utilizing hydrophone equipment to successfully track down what some say is the world’s loudest animal.” 

Captain Dave’s, a marine life tour operator in Dana Point, California, says that these whales are in the region year-round, but it’s not often that they emerge in such a spectacle that was recently observed.

“Because of their love for deep sea diving in offshore waters, their visits are very rare and extremely special,” the operator’s website says.  

Sperm whales – the largest species of toothed whales – are considered endangered, according to NOAA Fisheries, with roughly 2,000 whales estimated to live off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Their status stems from nearly two centuries of being hunted, from 1800 to 1987, during which time the commercial whaling industry “nearly decimated” the species’ entire population, NOAA says. 

Whaling is not a threat to the animals anymore, the agency said, but the populations are “still recovering” worldwide. And while whaling is not the biggest threat anymore – they still face several other issues. Vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements, ocean noise, pollution, oil spills and climate change remain their biggest threats.