If something interesting or unusual happens in Morro Bay, Mike Jones is usually there with his cameras to document the occasion.
When a bear was sighted at the beach, when a Coast Guard boat rescuing pro surfer Chris Ward wiped out in giant surf, when a man fell 200 feet off of Morro Rock — Jones was there.
“It’s a crazy network of people that inform me when something happens,” said Jones, who owns and operates the Azhiaziam surf and clothing shop on the Embarcadero.
As Jones was working in his shop Thursday, someone told him about a wildlife show taking place that very moment.
“Someone came in and said, ‘There’s a bunch of killer whales feeding off a dead gray whale,’” Jones recalled.
He quickly gathered his camera gear, closed his shop and headed toward Morro Rock. From the jetty, he couldn’t quite see the show, so he began to procure a boat.
After finding an available friend with a boat, they were soon out to sea, where roughly a half-mile from the Rock, Jones saw a pack of about 15 to 20 orcas and two whales — a mother and a calf.
The orcas appeared to be herding the baby away from the mother.
“It was a pretty sad story,” he said.
Jones quickly began shooting the scene, capturing shots of orcas breaking the surface and leaping into the air.
“They breached about five times,” he said.
Jones, who took up photography as a hobby after hurting himself on a skateboard in 2004, has since garnered much exposure for his big wave surfing photos.
Earlier this month, several of his shots were nominated at the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards.
His photos from Thursday captured an amazing scene rarely witnessed along San Luis Obispo County’s coastline.
Howard Garrett, founder and president of Orca Network, which collects information about killer whales from Whidbey Island, Washington, said he’d heard about the drama in Morro Bay.
“It was long and drawn out,” he said.
The orcas were on the attack over a period of seven hours, he said. “They play with their prey.”
It’s typical of orcas to get between a mother and its calf, he said. Sometimes, the orcas will even lie on a calf, pushing it under water while covering its blow hole.
“They’re very methodical about it,” Garrett said.
While sightings in San Luis Obispo County are rare, he said the orcas are seen in Monterey quite often. Along the Pacific coast, there are generally two types of orcas, he added: mammal eaters, called transients, and fish eaters, called residents.
Orcas have more difficulty detecting whales in shallow water, Garrett said, so whales might seek protection closer to shore.
“When they go in deep water, the orcas are lying in wait,” he said.
Once they kill a calf, he said, the whale quickly begins to sink. “So they really can’t eat a lot of it.”
As a result, the orcas quickly eat what’s most available — usually tender parts of the whale, including the lips and tongue.
In such a scenario, he added, the orcas usually only kill the calf.
Friday morning, Jones was trying to get on another boat in case the orcas were still around. But chances are, Garrett said, the orcas had already left. And since they cover a wide territory, that particular pod is probably long gone.
“They may not be back for 10 years,” he said.
Patrick S. Pemberton is a reporter with the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.