Pascagoula biologist talks about Gulf's killer whales

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) -  You may have seen them performing at Sea World or featured in some nature program,  swimming the icy waters of the northern Atlantic. But did you know that killer whales can also be found in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the Mississippi Gulf Coast?

An Alabama charter boat captain shot some amazing video of these giant marine mammals.

The spectacular display of killer whales was captured from the deck of the "Shady Lady" about 70 miles off the coast of Alabama.

"That's some of the best video I've seen of killer whales in the Gulf of Mexico," said Dr. Keith Mullin of Pascagoula.

The NOAA biologist has spotted the massive marine mammals in the northern Gulf before.

"What people generally don't know is that killer whales occur throughout the world. They're much more abundant in the polar regions, both Antarctica and the Arctic. But they occur throughout the tropics. They occur in the Caribbean," said Dr. Mullin.

"I think we had our first killer whale sightings in 1989. And we've been seeing them periodically, either from ships or airplanes during our routine assessment surveys," said Mullin.

Scientists will board a research ship for another assessment of the northern gulf this summer. Researchers will survey the waters for all types of marine mammals, including killer whales.

"That dorsal fin is about six feet high and the females typically have that recurved, smaller dorsal fin," Mullin explained, while pointing to a digital picture of a pod of whales.

He recalls his own close encounter.

"The animal swam up to the bow of the ship and stuck his head out of the water and blew," Mullin said.

But even though the enormous whales can be animated or even docile, they're called "killer" for a reason.

"They will eat large whales. They'll get in packs of 20 to 30 whales and attack a large whale and kill it and eat it," said Dr. Mullin, "They're at the top of the food chain. Nobody eats them. They eat things that eat other things. So they're called apex predators, the top of the food chain. As far as I know, other than man, they have no enemies."

Full grown males can reach 30 feet in length and weigh more than 12,000 pounds.

Dr. Mullin says killer whales have inhabited the Gulf for many years. He says research by a colleague found reports of sightings or strandings dating back to 1921.

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