PHOTOS: Searching for the Elusive Bryde’s Whale

Amid recent sightings of the elusive Bryde’s whale, including two this week, the Aquarium of Pacific set out Wednesday morning to find the rare mammal.

Aquarium education specialist Kera Mathes said the whale, pronounced BROO-duhz, is so rare that only 12 individuals have ever been spotted along the western coast of the United States. However, she said there are about 100 near Hawaii and more in the western Pacific Ocean.

Bryde’s whales are smaller but much more populous than a more common Southern California visitor, the blue whale.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimates the Bryde whale’s total population at about 90,000 to 100,000 worldwide, compared with a few thousand blue whales globally. Bryde’s whales grow to 40 to 55 feet long, while blue whales can reach 110 feet in length.

Even though Capt. Dan Salas, who was piloting Harbor Breeze’s newest ship, Triumphant, couldn’t find the scarce whale Wednesday, he did find Eileen. She is a blue whale he nicknamed for her propensity to lean to one side while diving.

Salas insists that every whale is unique.

“Every whale is an individual, just like a human,” he said. “They are all different.”

So he and his crew have taken to naming them: Hook, because of a hooked tail; Curly, because of a curly tail; Nacho, who has a notch in her tail; and Bubbles, because she blows air out of her blowhole before surfacing.

Visitors aboard his boat may never see the Bryde’s whale, but blue whales migrate to California and stay from June to October. Salas said he sees them, along with dolphins, almost every day.