CHATHAM – An orca, also known as a killer whale, the only creature known to prey on great white sharks, was spotted off Chatham Monday by a charter fisherman.
Bruce Peters of Capeshore Charters was about 11 miles east of the Cape on a tuna charter when one of his customers spotted the orca's distinctive dorsal fin.
“I was like, no way,” Peters said Tuesday. “But it was definitely a killer whale.”
After seeing photos that Peters posted on Facebook, Division of Marine Fisheries Shark Scientist Dr. Greg Skomal confirmed the sighting.
Seeing an orca in Cape waters is unusual but not unheard of, Skomal said in an email.
“We remember our spotter pilot Tim Voorheis seeing orcas offshore in 2006 while we were tagging basking sharks,” Skomal said.
In the Pacific, orcas prey on both seals and great white sharks, and if they do, “white sharks leave the area,” he said.
“Should be interesting to watch,” Skomal added.
Orcas as found in all the world's oceans, and like great white sharks, they are an apex predator with no natural enemies. They are known to prey on fish, marine mammals, other whales and sharks. They range in size from 16 to 26 feet.
Peters estimated the orca he saw Monday was about 25 feet long. He said the whale appeared at first to be showing off, rolling over in the water about 70 yards from his boat, the fishing vessel Marilyn S. At first he saw the flukes and thought it was a humpback whale. He'd seen 50 to 100 whales earlier in the day farther to the east, but the orca was more to the west, he said.
When he fished in California, Peters saw orcas twice off Point Reyes. He said he saw an orca jump out of the water, land on a sea lion and throw it across the water “like it was a cat and mouse thing.” He's been fishing off the Cape for 20 years and never seen an orca here before, he added.
Even though the tuna charter came up empty, Peters has been busy responding to calls about the orca.
“My phone is hot in my hand,” he said.