Viral whale video: Likely not an orca, but still cool

This screenshot from John Parisi's video shows the whale lunge feeding off Rockport's Halibut Point.

ROCKPORT — Have orcas come to Cape Ann? Experts doubt it.

On Monday, Rockport native John Parisi spotted two whales off the coast of Halibut Point on Monday while fishing with his son and his son's friend.

"We were fishing for stripers," said Parisi. "There were a lot of porgies jumping out of the water. Then there was a huge commotion with the fish. I looked over and saw these two whales breach the ocean with their dorsal fins."

Parisi was able to shoot a quick video of at least one whale sticking a fin out of the water before submerging into the ocean. In the video, which had 9,600 views on Facebook late Tuesday afternoon, the boaters off-screen exclaim they saw a "killer freakin' whale!" 

Sometime after the video was posted, a debate broke out in its comment section: Is it actually an orca, or could it be a minke whale?

A commenter on Parisi's video reads, "It’s a minke whale lunge feeding in the massive schools of menhaden that are in the area right now. What you see is 1/2 of the tail out of the water, not the dorsal fin. Still a cool thing to see though!"

After viewing the video, Tony LaCasse, media relations director at the Boston Aquarium, agrees with the commenter.

"I do not see anything that resembles an orca look or behavior," he said. Lunge feeding is a technique used by baleen whales, which survive off of small fish. In attempt to maximize their catch, these whales rush schools of fish with an open mouth and gulp whatever they can get.

"Orcas are toothed whales, not baleen whales," said LaCasse.

Minkes, he continued, can work close to shore and are distributed up and down the New England coast in the summer months. 

As for the fin shown the video, "(it's) not a dorsal fin ... it's most likely a pectoral fin or half of the tail fluke."

Whatever type of whale it was, Parisi said he couldn't believe he had his phone on hand to take video of it. 

"I've seen whales and harbor dolphins before while lobstering," he said, "but I've never seen something like that."

Orcas have been spotted off the Massachusetts coast, especially around Cape Cod, but sightings are rare. Their populations are spread all over the world but are most commonly spotted in the Norwegian Sea, north Pacific Ocean and off the cost of Antarctica.

Sightings in shallow waters around New England typically involve a single orca traveling alone. One such whale, nicknamed Old Tom, can be seen once or twice a year visiting the Gulf of Maine. In one rare case, three orcas were seen traveling together in Chatham in 2016.

In early June, an orca was spotted swimming alongside a dolphin off the shores of Chatham in Cape Cod. There were no other sightings of that whale reported afterward.

Watch Parisi's video here: tinyurl.com/rockportwhale.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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