Here are some “odds and ends” of Killer whale records from the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine. This beautiful whale is definitely rare. As a matter of fact, the scholars among us have insufficient data to establish any position on the status of Orcinus orca in this area. Anyway here are a few interesting records and stories. If you have something to add please post your records in comments.
1950 – 1 stranded at Economy, Minas Basin, Nova Scotia
(Sergeant, D.E. and H.D. Fisher, The Smaller Cetacea of Eastern Canadian Waters. J.Fish.Res.Bd.Canada, 14(1), 1957)
1950’s – Fisherman reported Killer followed him in to Harbour on Grand Manan Island, NB.
Art MacKay, Manuscript. Mammals of Grand Manan, NB
2001 – Pods of 5 – 25 Orca whales were spotted during the summer of 2000 off of Grand Manan and the southern end of Campobello Island. It may be the many seals found in the area that attracted the Orcas. Swim at your own risk! Quoddyloop.com
2005 – Killer whales entertain Gulf of Maine fishermen – Commercial Fisheries News
GLOUCESTER, MA – The dragger crews of the Gloucester-based 67′ David James and the 55′ Deborah Ann, out of Portland, experienced a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a pair of 16 to 18-foot killer whales in the Wilkinson Basin area during the first week of April.
On April 17, the crew of the 42′ Misty Dawn II saw the whale pair on Harvey Blacks Ridge. The Portland-based longliner is owned and operated by Robert Springer.
The whale experience not only left the fishermen awed, but also with a greater understanding and respect for these top marine predators. “They were jumping out of the water,” said Doug Cressey of the Misty Dawn II. “It was like being at SeaWorld.”
Cressey said they put squid, some of the longliner’s bait, into the water and the killer whales came up to the side of the boat, and he took the picture at right.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen killer whales in my 30 years of fishing,” said Capt. Mark Roberts of South Portland. His Deborah Ann was towing when, “I first saw the fins following alongside. I thought they must be pilot whales at first.”
Roberts went on deck with his camera and shot some dramatic pictures of the killer whales as they followed the Deborah Ann. Males of the species often grow to 22′ and weigh up to 12,000 pounds, while the smaller females can grow to 19′ and weigh 8,000 pounds.
Shortly afterwards on deck, an excited Roberts banged on the side of the vessel, and the animals came right up to it.
“I thought about grabbing some fish out of the hold and feeding them. They were friendly to the point that it seemed like they wanted me to pat them,” Roberts said. “I felt they wanted to make contact. It was as though they wanted to come aboard the boat. It was the freakiest thing.
“They were around me for 15 to 20 minutes. They were beautiful animals,” said Roberts, who stressed, “Nobody loves nature more than the guys (fishermen) out there.”
Steve Perkins, captain and owner of the David James, first spotted a dorsal fin breaking water amongst a school of porpoises about a quarter mile away from his vessel around noontime on April 2. Porpoises commonly follow fishing vessels in the area, especially when draggers haul back their nets and fish drop out through the codend, making easy meals for them.
Perkins and crew John Mione and Joe Vaiarella, both of Gloucester, didn’t know this fin belonged to a killer whale until they began hauling back the net and doors. As soon as the trawl doors broke the water, Mione and Vaiarella saw the killer whales from their aft gallows frame positions.
Mione shouted, “Joe, what the heck are they? They don’t belong here!”
“I saw this big fin. I told John that’s an awful big fin for a porpoise. I had to look at them five times, and then I realized these were killer whales,” said Vaiarella. “I’ve seen just about every kind of whale out there except killer whales in my 44 years of fishing.”
With the doors winched tight to the gallows frame blocks, the David James chugged ahead about 3 knots with the net trailing astern. The pair of killer whales then came right alongside, even to within 5′ of Vaiarella and Mione who watched them from the railing. Porpoises were simultaneously milling about with the killer whales.
“The whales were playing away, having a good time. A few times they arced right out of the water like nothing at all. Other times they turned over on their sides slightly and looked right at us,” recalled Vaiarella.
“The killer whales had great girth. They were cruising easily. They had plenty of power,” said Perkins, who, like the rest of his crew, had never seen killer whales at sea before.
Perkins remembers his father telling him of seeing killer whales attack a school of giant bluefin tuna off of Provincetown years ago. The whales then turned the water brick red and often surfaced with 500-pound tuna in their mouths.
But the biggest whale show happened as the crew reeled in the net.
“The whales popped their heads up about 10 feet from the stern, and they next opened their mouths. They looked like they had big smiles on their faces, and it was as though they were showing off their big pearly white teeth saying, ‘Look, no cavities’,” said Mione.
Each whale has up to 56 three-inch-long conical canine teeth used for grabbing and ripping.
The David James’ whale experience lasted about seven minutes. After hauling back, the vessel left for home. During a return fishing trip to this area the following week, the crew saw no signs of this pair of killer whales.
“The whales seemed to be very interested in what we were doing. The porpoises didn’t appear to be overly excited by their presence,” said Perkins.
He wondered if either David James’ sonar or the hauling back of the net could have drawn the whales to the boat in the first place.
Ironically, the literature states that the porpoises and killer whales often feed together on fish, yet, the porpoises sometimes become the meals of the killer whales, who also feed on other large and small marine mammals and even sea turtles. Killer whales inhabit all of the world’s oceans.
Peter K. Prybot
June 2006 – A Grand Manan fisherman spotted a breaching Orca whale (killer whale) off Grand Manan. A subsequent breaching was observed by other area fishermen.
Killer Whale Drawings by Art MacKay are Copyright 2008