Back in July, a group of fishermen in Florida set out on a fishing trip in the Florida Straits, hoping to catch some swordfish. Little did they know, about 19 miles off Key Largo they would cross paths with a pod of killer whales. What began as a routine fishing trip soon turned into a memorable wildlife encounter.
Killer Whales in Florida
As the fishermen ventured into the waters of the Florida Straits, something strange caught their eye — a hint of blood in the water. Following this crimson trail, they arrived at a spot teeming with birdlife. However, what happened next left them in disbelief. Rising from the deep were the unmistakable black-and-white forms of killer whales. Mike Slaughter, the owner of the boat, later shared in an Instagram post that it was an “amazing and once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The orcas, positioned about 18 to 20 miles offshore, had just made a kill when the fishermen came across them.
Unable to contain their excitement, some of the fishermen donned their snorkeling gear and dove into the water for a closer look. To their amazement, the orcas displayed a similar inquisitiveness. In a particularly remarkable moment, one of the whales partially breached the surface, drawing exclamations from the onlookers aboard the boat.
The whale gracefully glided just beneath the water’s surface, passing mere feet away from the boat. Members of the inquisitive pod surfaced intermittently, closely observing the vessel and its occupants before resuming their underwater activities. Slaughter also remembered how one of the orcas surfaced with a hefty chunk of meat, filling the air with its distinct aroma.
Talk of the Town
Even the most seasoned fishermen were left wide-eyed by this encounter. Capt. Chrisman, who’s been casting lines in the Keys for over 20 years, had seen his fair share of sea creatures, from sperm whales to pilot whales. But a killer whale? That was his first. Marine scientist Kirk Linaje also weighed in with his perspective on the situation. He thought these creatures were Caribbean Orcas, which hang out in the waters of the southeastern Caribbean Sea.
The news of this incredible sighting spread like wildfire throughout Florida Keys. Social media was abuzz with posts and comments about the orcas and locals eagerly shared videos and stories. No matter where you went, everyone was talking about the orcas!
Rare Orcas in Florida
While orca whales are not common in Florida, they are not entirely unheard of. In January, a 20-foot-long orca stranded itself along the northern Atlantic coast, ultimately succumbing to its fate. This marked the first instance of an orca stranding in the southeast since 1956 and was only the third known case of an orca stranding in the region.
Typically, orcas are more frequently found in colder waters, such as those surrounding Antarctica, Norway, and Alaska. With an estimated global population of 50,000 orcas, encountering them in Florida’s warmer waters is indeed a rarity. However, it is not unprecedented. Some of the older fishermen in the area told us stories about seeing an orca near the Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas about 40 to 50 years ago.
Respecting Wildlife Guidelines
For your safety and the welfare of marine life, it is crucial to remember that orcas are wild and unpredictable animals. Violating federal laws designed to protect these animals can lead to fines and legal consequences, putting a damper on your summer plans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Marine Life Viewing guidelines stress the importance of respecting wildlife and maintaining a safe distance from marine species protected by the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Recent years have seen an increase in interactions between orcas and humans, including vessel attacks and boat sinkings. To ensure safety and avoid potential encounters with orcas, it is recommended to stay at least 100 yards away from these magnificent creatures. This distance is approximately equivalent to the length of a football field.
In conclusion, while a chance encounter with orcas can be a thrilling experience, it is essential to exercise caution, adhere to guidelines, and prioritize the safety of both yourself and these incredible marine animals. If you happen to witness orcas, especially if they are dead, injured, or entangled, you are encouraged to report your sighting by contacting NOAA Fisheries at 1-877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343).
Q : Why are orcas rare in Florida?
A : Orcas are uncommon in Florida due to their preference for colder waters.
Q : Are orcas dolphins?
A : Yes, orcas, also known as killer whales, are a type of dolphin.
Q : Where are orcas usually found?
A : Orcas are typically found in cold waters, like Antarctica and Alaska.