Ol’ Tom the Orca is back – whale watchers off Brier Island spend time with solitary whale

September 17, 2016

A boat of whale watchers spent 30 to 40 minutes Sept. 17 observing the solitary whale swimming with about 20 or 30 dolphins just off the coast of Brier Island.

Shelley Longeran, research co-ordinator with Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises, has seen Ol’ Tom a few times and gets just as worked up every time.

“Oh yes it was exciting – every bit as exciting as the first time I saw him,” she said to the Courier by phone. “I’ve been doing this 28 years and even to see a humpback I get really excited. You get to know these whales – that sounds funny – but you do, you get to see the different personalities and you look forward to seeing certain individuals.”

Ol’ Tom has been coming into the Bay of Fundy every couple years since at least 2006. Longeran saw him in 2010 and in 2015, swimming with dolphins like he was this year.

Orcas are toothed whales of the dolphin family and, like all dolphins, orcas usually travel in a permanent family social group called a pod. Longeran suspects  Ol’ Tom might have been orphaned.

She has photos of a pod of orcas in the Bay of Fundy in 1999 and she wants to check and see if he was part of that group.

Every orca has a uniquely-shaped saddle patch, which enables whale watchers and researchers to identify and tell them apart.

The first to spot Ol’ Tom this morning was Harold Graham, the owner of Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises.

He often drives to North Point on Brier Island and watches for whales from shore and then directs the boat to the whales.

“He was telling us, ‘There are a couple of humpbacks over there, there is another one over there,’ and then he said ‘Oh there’s an orca out there,’” says Longeran.

Longeran says they also saw about 500 dolphins in the Bay today and nine humpbacks up close with more in the distance.

“This has been one of the best summers we’ve ever had: whale wise we’re up and people wise too,” she said.

In a normal summer they document about 140 to 150 individual humpback whales, but this year they identified 170.

Numbers of minke and fin whales are also up, but not right whales – those have moved further north to Cape Breton and the St. Lawrence chasing after food.

Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises will be offering whale watch trips until the Thanksgiving weekend.

Source: www.digbycourier.ca

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Orca Pod Spotted Off Cape Cod Likely not Drawn by Seals

August 30, 2016

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.

Source: Cape Cod.com

 

Fishermen film killer whales off Cape Cod

August 25, 2016

A group of fishermen looking for tuna off Cape Cod recorded video Tuesday of an encounter with a pod of killer whales.

Onboard the Fish Box out of Pleasant Bay were Alex Wyckoff, Matt Ward, Mark Ward and Capt. Justin Daly, according to Wyckoff.

“It’s a killer whale baby,” one of the men shouted as one of at least four orcas passed by the boat.

At one point the whales swam under the boat.

The men continued to troll for tuna but the whales swam next to the boat several times and stayed nearby for 10 to 15 minutes, according to Wyckoff.

Watch the video by Alex Wyckoff here

“This is the best day ever. I don’t even care about the tuna anymore,” one of the fishermen said. “This is amazing.”

The men were tuna fishing about 12 miles east of Chatham, according to Wyckoff.

“One was significantly bigger than the others, one was very small which we thought was a baby, and the other two were different by their dorsal fins,” he wrote in an email about the whales.

Source: Cape Cod Times.com

Orca sighted on German Bank by Southwest Nova Scotia fishermen

August 17, 2016

WEST PUBNICO, N.S. – Crew aboard the MV Angela O, fishing ground fish on the German Bank, had unusual company for several hours earlier this week.

Ronald Amirault shot a short video of the killer whale that showed up behind the boat, pushing on its cables.

He said crew was lucky enough to see another orca three summers ago.

“Same place, same boat,” he said.

The Angela O fishes out of Dennis Point, West Pubnico.

On July 9, Norm Strickland was heading for cod-fishing grounds off Burgeo, N.L., when orcas surrounded his 18-foot boat. As reported in The Gulf News, the orcas kept approaching from the stern and began bumping his boat. The ordeal continued for about 30 minutes until Strickland decided to get closer to land before the orcas capsized his boat.

“When we got near the land where the waves were crashing on the shores, the orcas headed back out to sea, travelling in a west direction,” he said.

Last September, Digby Courier reporter Jonathan Riley wrote about Craig Theriault of Petit Passage Whale Watch who spotted an orca affectionately known as Ol’ Tom. The whale was swimming with a pod of about 200 dolphins near the Northwest Ledge, about four miles off Brier Island.

Theriault notified Brier Island Whale Watch and Seabird Cruises and they immediately sent a boat out to see the orca.

“We were pretty excited – one of the passengers told me some of the thrill was watching the crew get excited. We were all jumping up and down,” said research coordinator Shelley Longeran.

See the Video HERE

Source: www.thevanguard.ca

Orcas bump boat off Burgeo

July 11, 2016

BURGEO, N.L. — Norm Strickland was out cod fishing on Saturday, when suddenly, the boat was surrounded by orcas who aggressively hit the sides of the fishing boat until he made it back towards land.

“The orcas kept coming from the stern and aggressively bumped the side of our boat amidship,” he said.

The faster they steamed the boat, the faster the animals came, and they kept bumping the boat.

This ordeal continued for maybe 30 minutes, when Strickland decided they would have to get near land before the whales capsized the boat.

“Orcas are not a common sight around Burgeo and my first sighting of them,” he said. “I strongly advise anyone that is out in their small boats be watchful and careful of the orca whales.”

Source: TheWesternStar.com

More killer whale sightings reported in northeastern Hudson Bay

July 8, 2016

Changes to ice conditions could be one of the reasons behind a number of recent killer whale sightings in northeastern Hudson Bay, according to one marine biologist, and they could be after the same marine prey as Inuit hunters.

“In the case of Nunavut and Nunavik, these animals are likely eating the same marine mammals that are culturally and economically important to Inuit harvesters, so there is always the risk of potential competition of killer whales coming in and eating the same belugas and seals and that sort of things that the harvesters are depending on,” said Jeff Higdon.

There have been several reports of killer whale sightings around the Belcher Islands and in the waters off the west coast of the Ungava peninsula in Northern Quebec in the past month, including reports of two washed up carcasses.

“Killer whales are not normally seen around the island, but since winter to this spring several sightings have been reported,” said Lucassie Arragutainaq, chair of the hunters and trappers organization in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, in Inuktitut.

He said hunters spotted the carcass of what appeared to be a washed-up killer whale in June along the Belcher Islands. Samples were collected and sent to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada lab in Winnipeg for testing.

Earlier this week, a killer whale was spotted further north near Puvirnituq, Que.

Last month, further south near Whapmagoostui, Que., there was another possible sighting.

And then this week, another carcass reportedly appeared near Sanikiluaq.

“A hunter was asked to get samples of it, but we think the dead whale washed away as he couldn’t find it in the area where someone claims to have seen it,” Arragutainaq said.

Sightings of killer whales in northeastern Hudson Bay have not been confined to the warmer months. Hunters from Sanikiluaq also reported seeing the whales earlier this year in January.

Three years ago, Jeff Higdon would have been skeptical of the sightings during the winter. But that changed when a dozen killer whales were found trapped in the ice in January 2013, about 30 kilometres off the coast of Inukjuak, Que.

Unlike other populations of killer whales like in the Pacific Ocean, who have enough data collected on them to form personalized health records, the marine biologist who works as a consultant including clients in Nunavut, said little is known about the whales on the other sides of Canada.

“The ones in the northwest Atlantic, eastern Canadian Arctic, we don’t really have a good understanding about of abundant these things are. We actually have little to no data on how abundant they are,” Higdon said.

“Most of what we know about this population of killer whales in particular, most of what we know about this population of killer whales in Nunavut and Nunavik, has come from local harvesters.”

Higdon said changes to sea ice and a possible growth in the killer whale population may be some of the reasons why year-round sightings are being reported.

“It’s not simply population growth, it’s animals going into different areas where they historically haven’t been found as well, and as far as the reason why they’re going there is anybody’s guess at this point.

Source: msn.com

Orca named ‘Old Thom’ spotted in rare sighting off Chatham

July 5, 2016

Monday morning had already been good to Bruce Peters. By 8:45 a.m., the commercial fisherman, who had taken some customers out on a routine fishing trip off Cape Cod around 4 a.m., had already seen 50 to 60 whales and dozens of dolphins.

“It was like Sea World out there,” said the 60-year-old fisherman, who has been on the water most of his life.

So when a customer announced that there was an orca prowling the waters near their tuna fishing boat, Peters didn’t believe him. After all, orcas, commonly known as killer whales, are exceedingly rare in this part of the Atlantic; marine experts said they can’t remember ever seeing one this close to Cape Cod. They can’t even estimate how many orcas live in the northwest Atlantic, because there just aren’t enough sightings.

But sure enough, it was an orca’s 6-foot slick black dorsal fin cutting through the water about 13 miles northeast of Chatham.

Peters, owner of Capeshores Charters. snapped a photo, which he posted to Facebook and which quickly attracted the attention of amateur wildlife lovers and veteran marine biologists alike. Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said the aquarium’s researchers conferred with Dr. Jack Lawson, a marine mammal researcher at the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and confirmed that it was an orca — and in fact, one they’ve seen before.

This particular orca is affectionately known as “Old Thom,” a male who is about 30 feet long and weighs eight tons, age unknown. And he’s known for being spotted in unusual places. He has been sighted by researchers in 2014 and 2015 in the Bay of Fundy, off Nova Scotia, still farther south than orcas’ typical roaming waters near Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, LaCasse said, Old Thom has never been seen in those typical areas.

So while seeing an orca off Cape Cod is highly unusual, seeing Old Thom in particular there is not so much.

“It’s really hard to know why one animal does anything. You’ll see a pattern of behavior, but then there are other individuals, that’s just not what they do,” New England Aquarium research scientist Philip Hamilton said. “Maybe that’s how he was raised. We don’t know all the things that go into where a whale goes and why.”

It’s possible that other orcas also travel this far south — but sightings are so rare, Hamilton said, there’s no way of knowing.

“We just haven’t had the opportunity to see that,” he said.

Peters said he has only ever seen one other orca in his career, and that was off the coast of San Francisco. For a fisherman who sees humpback and minke whales regularly, this sighting was a reminder of what makes his job so special.

“I’m grateful to have the job that I have. People pay me to take them out there to see something like that,” he said. “It was thrilling but mostly humbling to be blessed to see.”

There was one downside, though: With the killer mammal circling his boat, even swimming alongside it for a bit, he didn’t catch a single tuna.

Cape Cod residents on social media have been hopeful Old Thom will have the same effect on the plentiful seals that crowd their beaches. But LaCasse said they will probably be disappointed, as the orca population Old Thom comes from has never been documented to eat seals.

And as for those hoping for an epic showdown between local great white sharks and this deadly predator?

“Maybe on the fantasy channel,” Hamilton laughed.

Source: BostonGlobe.com

Additional Sources with Video Here

Minke whales are predominant prey of killer whales in Northwest Atlantic

2/22/2016

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Tara Stevens, who is finishing her doctorate at the University of Rode Island, has been studying the estimated 200 killer whales believed to live around the area of Newfoundland.

During her study she found that Minke whales seem to be the predominant prey of this population. Killer whales subdue the larger animal by attempting to drown it. 10 – 20 killer whales will be jumping on a minke whale’s back in an attempt to force it underwater.

Her study indicates that they don’t hunt exclusively on Mine whale though as they have been seen taking dolphins, porpoises and seals. Though it is possible they also take fish, some whales have been seen to take halibut and tuna off of longlines. When the tuna fishery was going strong in the Gulf of Maine killer whales regularly took tuna off longlines, but after the fishery crashed the fishermen didn’t see killer whales any more. The killer whales might have left or switched food sources.

It is too early to determine if there are multiple ecotypes in area (prey specialists) but Stevens believes that the killer whale’s movements are based on following prey. Some killer whales that stay in Newfoundland and Labrador year round have been seen in pack ice feeding on breeding seals.

Source: https://whalesandmarinefauna.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/minke-whales-are-predominant-prey-of-killer-whales-in-northwest-atlantic/