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4 killer whales spotted in rare sighting off Nantucket, Massachusetts

By Jamy Pombo Sesselman

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    NANTUCKET, Massachusetts (WCVB) — Four killer whales swimming 40 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, were spotted by researchers with the New England Aquarium on Sunday.

The pod was spotted by an aerial survey team for the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.

“Initially, I could just see two splashes ahead of the plane,” said Katherine McKenna, assistant research scientist, who first spotted the whales. “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.”

Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist who leads the aerial survey team, said they believe the sighting to be two males and two females. However, their genders were not 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 said, adding the species’ population is very small in western North Atlantic waters.

The four killer whales, also known as orcas, were among nearly 150 whales and dolphins that the team spotted during the seven-hour flight, including 23 fin whales counting a mother and calf, five minke whales, 62 bottlenose dolphins and 20 humpback whales bubble feeding.

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.

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