Farley the fin whale is staying put

Farley in action - instead of moving on he has stayed to play with the locals
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Something strange and special is going on off the coast of California and the locals are mystified. A fin whale of nearly 100 tons seems to have taken up residence in the waters off Dana Point in southern Los Angeles, and instead of moving on with his friends, is playfully approaching boats as never seen before. He's even been given a name. Erica I. Ritchie reported for Orange County Register:

In 12 years as captain of a whale-watching boat, Tom Southern has seen nothing like it.

For the past four days, a fin whale has been 'mugging' sightseers on several Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari boats.

The nearly 100-ton whale has been swimming with and around the bows of several of the catamarans used for daily sightseeing trips out of Dana Point Harbor. It's stayed with the boats for nearly an hour. He's also sought out nearby vessels to make an appearance.

'This whale is like nothing I've ever seen before,' Southern, of San Clemente, said. 'I've been calling him Farley. He's the friendliest fin whale I've ever seen. Most are here for a day and then move on. When we pull up to him he'll turn and come over to the boat. We shut down and he comes up right alongside. Then he turns on his side and looks at everyone on deck. He puts his nose under the bow.'

Farley has been spotted about 2 miles of the Dana Point Headlands since Friday. On Monday the whale was playing with passengers on the boat right off the shore of Thousand Steps Beach in South Laguna.

Fin whales, second only in size to blue whales, are not frequently found during the winter, said Dave Anderson, owner of the whale-watching company. The playful behavior with the boats is entirely unusual. The frequent appearances and returns to the boats are even more special, he added.

Likely scenarios for the whale's presence could be the abundance of krill, a shrimp-like crustacean highly appealing to the whale palate. In a day a fin whale can consume nearly three to four tons of krill a day. Anderson and Southern have seen whale poop floating around, evidence that the whale is eating lots of krill, they say.

In the last few years Anderson said he's seen more krill-eating whales in the area. The migratory paths of the fin whale are not clearly defined like that of the gray whale. They say it's a possibility that the whale has selected the South County beaches for a more permanent stay.

'I've never seen a fin whale do this with a boat,' Southern said. 'It could be an adolescent that's just separated from its mother, looking for some company.'

On Monday Stacy Sims, of Long Beach, took her coveted spot at the boat's bow. She and her husband, Kevin, had taken the whale-watching trip a few weeks ago and sighted one of the first gray whales of the season. Now they were back for a second trip.

'The entire whale crossed just at the bow, right under me, it was amazing!' she said. 'It was at least 40 feet long and was just beautiful. We could see everything from tip to tail. It was just such a blessing to start the New Year.'

eritchie@ocregister.com