Orca spotted off Cape Cod
Earlier today, New England Fishmongers reported spotting an orca off Cape Cod. Orca sightings aren’t all that common around here, but they do happen.
There’s old Thom, who’s been spotted off Chatham in recent years. In 1982, a 15-foot female killer whale, named “Geraldine” and “Gemini” (depending on who you asked), roamed the waters of Provincetown Harbor and Wellfleet near the Massachusetts Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
In a history column that I wrote for the Cape Codder a few years ago, I noted that, during the 1940s and 1950s, numbers of orcas were higher in the waters around Cape Cod, according to the late Col. Eugene Clark of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Clark witnessed an attack of orcas on a small school of pilot whales near Lewis Bay in Hyannis on the morning of March 2, 1949. According to an article penned by Clark in the Aug. 12, 1959 edition of the Cape Cod Times, the pilot whales were attacked by the orcas outside of the bay and the pilots sought refuge in the shallower water, resulting in several of them being beached.
“I closely examined six dead whales,” Clark wrote. “Each of them bore injuries received from killer whales.”
The next day, one of the orcas left its pack and ventured closer to shore near Great Island in Yarmouth, circling many of the pilot whales that had been rescued by the Hyannis harbormaster and his crew. Clark and many others watched this for several hours.
“When the killer reappeared it would be right in the center of the school, having taken a huge bite out of the belly of one of the pilot whales on its way up,” Clark observed. “Several times we observed pilot whales leaping straight up into the air with a huge wound on their belly and just dripping with blood.”
Clark added that a Cape police chief attempted to take out the killer whale with “a submachine gun from his department arsenal … with absolutely no effect. He might as well have been throwing doughnuts at the big beast.” The whale was finally killed by a shot to the head from “a big game rifle … a so-called elephant gun.”
Clark also pointed to pilot whale beachings in East Dennis and Wellfleet in 1950, where evidence showed that the beached mammals had been attacked by orcas.
In the summer of 1959, schools of the killer whales, ranging in size from 17 to 45 feet, were reported to be following mackerel-seeking tuna into Cape Cod Bay. Fishermen were finding dead tuna floating in the water, with “one great bite taken out of their belly … the trademark of a killer whale,” Clark wrote.
Orcas will eat just about anything smaller than themselves, including tuna, squid, and seals. Sharks are also fair game, as shown in a frequently-watched internet video shot in San Francisco Bay.
Will they come to closer to the Cape and chase the sharks away? It’s not likely right now, but in nature, anything is possible.
In 1959, Clark warned that, because of the leviathan’s preference for deep water, “killer whales are no menace to swimmers at area beaches. Swimmers off boats drifting in deep water and skin divers in deeper seas are not so safe.”