When an unusual type of bird is spotted out of range, bird watchers call it an accidental. On the morning of July 4, as reported in the Boston Globe, Bruce Peters and customers he had taken on a fishing trip spotted a marine mammal accidental — an orca whale off the coast of Cape Cod. Peters had already spotted dozens of whales and dolphins earlier in the morning but was at first doubtful when a customer reported seeing an orca off the side of the boat. Orcas, often referred to as killer whales, are extremely rare in the northwest Atlantic and this is one of the closest sightings to Cape Cod ever.
After Peters posted a picture to Facebook, the whale, spotted 13 miles northeast of Chatham, was confirmed to be an orca by Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium. In fact, after researchers at the aquarium talked with Dr. Jack Lawson, a marine mammal researcher at the Canadian Department of Fisheries, they realized it was an orca that had been spotted before named “Old Thom.”
Orcas typically live in waters farther north, around Newfoundland and Labrador, but Old Thom has been seen in more southern waters before. The whale was seen in 2014 and 2015 in the Bay of Fundy, off Nova Scotia. “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,” said New England Aquarium research scientist Philip Hamilton.
At 60 years old, Bruce Peters said that this was only the second orca he had seen in his career and that “it was thrilling but mostly humbling to be blessed to see.”