Killer whales spotted in southern New England waters in rare sighting

Orcas spotted near Nantucket
New England Aquarium

It’s rare for killer whales, or orcas, to be spotted in the waters of southern New England, but scientists from New England Aquarium spotted four of them swimming together 40 miles south of Nantucket on Sunday.

The team of researches saw them during an aerial survey.   

New England Aquarium
The pod of orcas. Photo from New England Aquarium

Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist who leads the aerial survey team for the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, said in a news release that it is “always unusual to see killer whales in New England waters.”

Katherine McKenna, an assistant research scientist, was the one who initially saw two splashes ahead of the plane.

“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,” she said.

O’Brien said the species’ population is very small in western North Atlantic waters and the team believes they saw two females, but they have not confirmed that.

“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 she said.

The New England Aquarium said the only killer whale seen regularly in North Atlantic waters is “Old Thom,” who is known to swim alone in the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. He was last spotted in Massachusetts waters in May 2022 off Cape Cod.

The research team saw nearly 150 whales and dolphins during the seven-hour flight and said they included 23 fin whales, five minke whales, 62 bottlenose dolphins and 20 humpback whales bubble feeding.

New England Aquarium
Humpback photo from New England Aquarium
New England Aquarium
Fin whales, mother and calf. Photo from New England Aquarium
New England Aquarium
Bottlenose dolphins. Photo from New England Aquarium

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