Orca Pod Spotted Off Cape Cod Likely not Drawn by Seals

CHATHAM – Marine biologists do not believe the pod of orcas spotted off Cape Cod last week was drawn to the region by the thousands of seals in the area – like great white sharks.

New England Aquarium researchers confirmed the marine mammals caught on video by fishermen about 12 miles east of Chatham were killer whales. They were able to identify two female orcas, but no adult males could be seen in the video.

Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said northwest Atlantic orcas are not like their West Coast brethren which are specialists in feeding on sea lions.

“For some reason the orcas in this region don’t have a history of praying on pinnipeds, seals or sea lions,” LaCasse said.

There has never been an observation or an autopsy showing orcas in the northwest Atlantic feeding on seals, according LaCasse.

“Their primary food source that we are familiar with are squid and fish,” he said. “And they will occasionally hit sea turtles. They’ll hit seabirds as well.”

They are also known to feed on Minke whales in the Newfoundland and Labrador area with some regularity.

LaCasse said it is rare to see a pod of orcas that close to shore in New England waters.

“We are sort of in exceptional times with water temperatures so warm,” LaCasse said. “So animals are breaking out of their normal patterns and their normal feeding areas in search of food.”

A well-known, solitary, adult male killer whale named Old Tom was spotted off the elbow of Cape Cod. Old Tom has been seen frequently over the past few summers in the Bay of Fundy near the Maine/New Brunswick border.

Small pods of orcas have been spotted in recent years in New England waters but are typically found over 100 miles offshore near the edge of the continental shelf.

The orca population in the northwest Atlantic is unknown, but the premier orca expert in region, Dr. Jack Lawson, says their numbers are probably in the hundreds.

“Strangely enough, there are many more orcas off the northwestern coast of Europe between Greenland and Iceland and Scandinavia,” LaCasse said. “And their numbers are in the thousands.”

The video of the pod of orcas can be seen above. The video may not be suitable for younger viewers due to strong language.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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