Watch CBS News

Over 160 "dazzling" whale and orca sightings reported off Massachusetts in single day

NOAA reports 161 whale sightings, including orcas, off Massachusetts
NOAA reports 161 whale sightings, including orcas, off Massachusetts 01:45

NANTUCKET - A recent survey flight of whales off the coast of Massachusetts reported more than 160 "dazzling" sightings of seven different species, including orcas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division said researchers reported 161 whale sightings in total on the May 25 flight south of Martha's Vineyard and southeast of Nantucket, including a rare killer whale sighting. They shared photos from the survey on Monday.

"I was in the front left bubble window of our plane, so I had a pretty good view of what was going on," said NOAA Marine Mammal Observer Alison Ogilvie. "We were pretty excited the whole time. There was a lot of shouting and gasps from both sides of the plane. There was so much action."

On a recent aerial survey, members of our Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s North Atlantic Right Whale team saw a...

Posted by NOAA Fisheries New England/Mid-Atlantic on Monday, June 10, 2024

Number of whales "not unusual" this time of year

"It is not unusual that there are a lot of whales in the area this time of year," NOAA spokesperson Teri Friady said. "But since we do not survey every day, or in the same areas every time we fly, catching such a large aggregation with such a variety of species on one of our flights is the exception rather than the rule."

There were 93 sightings of endangered sei whales - one of the highest ever seen during a single survey flight. Also spotted were about three dozen humpback whales, fin whales, sperm whales and the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. 

Two of the right whales were breeding females. Ogilvie says there are currently only 70 breeding females in the population. 

The research will allow them to track whale patterns, so they can make suggestions on boat speed restrictions.

"We don't really know of any right whale having died of natural causes. For the most part, they're getting hit by vessels, and by getting entangled in the vertical lines from trap pot fisheries," explains Ogilvie. 

Killer whales are a rare sight off Massachusetts

Seeing two orcas was a "highlight" of the aerial survey, NOAA said.

"More incredible - one of the killer whales had a tuna in its mouth!" the post stated.

Two orcas seen in an aerial survey off Massachusetts.  NOAA Fisheries/MMPA Permit #27066

"They're all common for the area except the killer whales were more of an unusual sighting for us. We know that they're in the area. It's just that their population, as far as we know, is pretty low," said Ogilvie.

On June 2, a lone killer whale was spotted off Chatham by people on board a fishing boat. The New England Aquarium said that orca is believed to be "Old Thom," who has been the only killer whale regularly seen in North Atlantic waters. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.