Whales in Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico Killer Whale

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Japan’s National Museum of Science and Nature published a paper in January detailing their discovery that the 40-foot animal known as the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale — thought to be a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale since 1965 — is, in fact, a separate and previously unnamed species. This discovery was substantiated by genetic data and an examination of the animal’s skull structure. The proposed name for this new species is “Rice’s whale,” after Dale W. Rice, the cetologist (whale scientist) who discovered these whales in the Gulf of Mexico. This post uses the name “Gulf of Mexico whale” while the Society for Marine Mammalogy Committee on Taxonomy considers the new name.

Killer Whales

Orcinus Orca, or Killer Whales, have been around as long as time can remember. But the orca (yes, like Shamu at Sea World) are predominate in colder waters, like the north Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. While it’s true that killer whales can be found in most of the oceans of the world until recently it was thought the warm Gulf of Mexico was unsuitable to the desires and pleasures of the predatory species.

Not so says federal biologist Keith Mullin. Killer whales have been known to live and swim in the warm Gulf after all, and a recent major sighting from a charter boat captain and crew, including quality video captured from the decks of the “Shady Lady”, proves otherwise.

Eddie Hall, Captain of the Shady Lady, says he stumbled across a pod of what looked liked orcas – or killer whales – playing in the Gulf about 90 miles off the Alabama coast.

“We couldn’t believe what we were looking at right away.

“One pod numbered around 75 whales. I think we counted about 200 killer whales that day, and I guess it would an understatement to say that we were surprised.”

Hall says he and his crew spotted several pods of orcas when they grabbed a video camera to prove their discovery.

Hall said when they returned to the dock in Alabama, no one really believed their story.

“I’m glad we got the video,” he said.

The location of the Shady Lady was approximately 3 miles south of the Horn Mountain Rig. At 92 miles, when the sun came up, the answers to their questions literally began to appear. At 9:00 a.m. Friday morning on Halloween Day October 31st. The tuna were scarce and scattered, and for good reason. The crew of the Shady Lady couldn’t believe what they were actually witnessing – four pods of killer whales feeding on the tuna the anglers had hoped to catch. According to Hall, there were four distinct pods of whales and each pod was feeding independently of the others. In the smallest pod, there were twenty-five to thirty killer whales feeding on tuna. Each of the other three pods had as many as one hundred members. A pod of whales could cover as much as an acre of water at any time, depending on how many animals surfaced at a time.

“This isn’t a result of climate change or some shift in the natural ecology of our oceans. We have suspected for years that orcas prowl and even inhabit Gulf waters far offshore,” Mullin reports. “Most orcas will be found in deep, deep water – usually 600 feet or deeper.”

Mullin, a U.S. Government biologist, says he is implementing a study of killer whales in the Gulf this summer, part of his ongoing Gulf whale research. But he warns that the speed and a relatively small number of orcas believed to call the Gulf their home will make it hard to reach solid conclusions any time soon.

Mullin says a 2007 study numbered the killer whale population in the Gulf to about 49 whales. But he says that information is greatly flawed. New evidence indicates that the number could well be in the hundreds or even thousands.

“We have no idea exactly how many or how widespread the orca population of the Gulf might be. But we’re certain they are out there,” he adds.

Mullin made about killer whales is that they are actually dolphins — and at up to 31 feet long, the largest at that. And while the second part of the killer whale’s common name is a misnomer, the first part, he said, is certainly not.

“They will attack large 30-, 40-foot whales in gangs of 20, 25 and they basically rip them apart,” Mullin said. “It’s not pleasant but that’s what they do.”

Unlike some orca populations that prey exclusively on a particular species — some off the Pacific Coast, for instance, eat only seals — the Gulf’s killer whales seem to have a varied diet, dining on species ranging from whales to tuna to Atlantic spotted dolphins.

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