Move over great white sharks. Make room for another apex predator in town.
Four killer whales were recently spotted south of Nantucket, a rare pod sighting in southern New England waters, while an orca was also seen swimming near dolphins off of Provincetown.
New England Aquarium scientists spotted the four killer whales swimming together as the research team flew aerial surveys 40 miles south of Nantucket on Sunday.
Meanwhile, fishermen saw the orca swimming next to the dolphins off the northern tip of Cape Cod.
It’s “always unusual to see killer whales in New England waters,” said Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist who leads the aerial survey team for the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.
Katherine McKenna, an assistant research scientist, first spotted the four killer whales.
“Initially I could just see two splashes ahead of the plane,” McKenna said. “As we circled the area, two whales surfaced too quickly to tell what they were. On the third surfacing, we got a nice look and could see the tell-tale coloration before the large dorsal fins broke the surface.”
The four killer whales were among nearly 150 whales and dolphins that the team spotted during the seven-hour flight — including 23 fin whales, five minke whales, 62 bottlenose dolphins, and 20 humpback whales bubble feeding.
“Seeing them swim in formation was just unreal,” O’Brien said of the orca pod. “We believe the sighting to be two males and two females, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
“I think seeing killer whales is particularly special for us because it unlocks that childhood part of you that wanted to be a marine biologist,” O’Brien added.
The species’ population is very small in western North Atlantic waters. The only killer whale seen regularly in North Atlantic waters is “Old Thom,” a large male orca who is known to swim alone, sometimes alongside dolphins, in the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. He was last spotted in Massachusetts waters in May 2022 off of Cape Cod.
A large orca that was swimming next to dolphins was recently captured on video by Simon Sez Sportfishing.
“Special day today seeing an Orca Whale in our waters off P-town,” Simon Sez posted on Instagram. “Never know what you’ll see, this made up for a tuna-less day today.”