Orca Pod Spotted Off Chatham

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Sharks

A screenshot of one of the ocras seen off Chatham Tuesday.

CHATHAM – A video taken by a group of tuna fishermen about a dozen miles east of Chatham shows a pod of orcas swimming alongside the boat. It's the second sighting of a killer whale off the town's coast this summer.

The video was shot by Alex Wyckoff aboard the Fish Box out of Pleasant Bay on Tuesday. At least four orcas, females and juveniles, can be seen in the waters around the boat and swam along the boat for almost a quarter hour.

A scientist at the New England Aquarium confirmed that the animals in the video are orcas and said the sighting is very unusual.

“It's definitely an exciting sighting,” said Philip Hamilton, a right whale research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the Aquarium. “Killer whales are rare in the North Atlantic.” In 30 years on the water as a whale researcher, Hamilton said he's only seen killer whales twice.

An orca known as Old Tom was seen off Chatham in early July. Hamilton Old Tom is usually a loner and isn't among the orcas in Wyckoff's video. As far as he could tell from the video, the pod didn't appear to include any male adults, just females and juveniles.

Orcas usually don't stray this far south. Although orcas are known to feed on seals and great white sharks – they're the only known predator of the latter – Hamilton said the plethora of those creatures in Chatham waters is not likely the reason the pod was so far south. The group was fishing for tuna, so it is possible the orcas were doing the same.

In the video Wyckoff and fellow fishermen Matt and Mark Ward and Captain Justin Daly are clearly excited to see the killer whales.

“I really enjoyed their enthusiasm,” Hamilton said.

Wyckoff shared the video with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, which posted it on its website and on YouTube.

Read more in next week's paper.