Boat captain Ryan Lawler looked at the rarely seen Bryde’s whale through his lens and noticed something unusual.
Pink flesh dotted the whale’s dark skin, fresh wounds. One wound, in a circle, was visible on the top of the whale as it emerged from the ocean’s surface in Huntington Beach near the oil platforms on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
“It had all these bite marks on the side of it. They were very interesting. They almost looked like it was sprayed down the side, these bite marks, kind of this arc on the side of the whale,” said Lawler, founder of Newport Coastal Adventure.
After consulting experts, it was determined the wounds were from a “cookiecutter shark,” a species that feeds on marine mammals and sometimes leaves circular scars “just like you’d cut a sugar cookie out of dough,” he said. The wounds looked fresh, like they happened in the past month or so.
It’s the first Bryde’s whale Lawler has encountered this year off the Orange County coastline. The tropical whale started popping up locally during the El Nino years. With waters still in the 70s this summer, tropical species are continuing to show up along the coast, including a rare sighting of a swordfish, spotted by Dana Wharf Whale Watching, earlier this week.
“They kind of show up here when the water gets warm,” Lawler said of the Bryde’s whale.
This one was seen about six miles from shore, following a deep-water shelf…