A pod of false killer whales cavorted off the Southern California coast this week, providing a rare scene for several whale-watching boats. By many accounts, it was the area's first such sighting in 13 years.

The charismatic marine mammals — which are technically dolphins — were first spotted off Orange County Wednesday morning by Mike Bursk of the Ocean Institute, and before long there were 50 to 70 of them. More boats soon joined the party, including one piloted by Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari, a prolific filmer of Southern California's world-famous cetaceans.

Just seeing so many false killer whales might satisfy most people, but Anderson went a step further and dunked his GoPro camera underwater. Not only did he get amazing video of the animals (see above), but he also recorded their vocalizations — including one that seemed to address the camera.

"I've never seen anything like it," Anderson writes on YouTube. "I was sitting there for about 5 minutes and the whales came over and surrounded me. Their whistles were so loud I could hear them above the surface. I grabbed my GoPro and wasn't even sure it was on and stuck in the water."

"One of the whales even became seemingly jealous of another and chased it off so he could come over to me," he adds. "It was one of the most amazing encounters I've ever had with wild cetaceans."

False killer whales are large members of the dolphin family, growing up to 20 feet long and 1,500 pounds. They're named for their resemblance to orcas, aka "killer whales," a better-known dolphin species to which they're distantly related. They were first known to science via 19th-century fossil records, and they were assumed to be extinct until live specimens were found 15 years later. They can live for 60 years, forming strong social bonds in groups ranging from 10 to 100 individuals.

Check out the video below for another view, including some athletic jumps in the last 20 seconds:

[Via Pete Thomas Outdoors]

Russell McLendon is science editor at MNN. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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