April 28, 2010

Killer whale a sight to see for Maine fisherman

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Many Maine fishermen go a lifetime without seeing a killer whale swim around their boat. Billy Train, a fishing captain from Falmouth, has had the experience twice.

click image to enlarge

Trawler captain Billy Train of Falmouth photographed this killer whale while fishing off the coast of Massachusetts. Although such sightings are rare, it was the second time for Train, who said he saw two orcas while fishing in 2005.

Billy Train photo

Train photographed a male killer whale as it followed his slow-moving trawler, the Black Beauty, late last week on Georges Bank, a famed fishing ground 100 miles east of Boston.

"I've been fishing for 34 years and it's only the second time I've ever seen them," said Train, who returned from the eight-day fishing trip Monday.

Train was alone in the wheelhouse of the trawler as it towed a groundfish net at about 3 knots. The three other members of the crew were below deck, resting, when Train walked out onto the open deck and saw the large black dorsal fin in the water.

"I immediately knew what it was," he said. "I went down and woke everybody up. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Unlike pilot whales, which often show up to eat escaping fish, or other whales that pass by each summer, killer whales tend to be more playful and more interested in the boat, Train said.

"That guy hung around the boat, checking us out for about an hour," he said. "He would roll up on his side and look at me. He kept coming back and he'd stick his head out of the water and he'd look at me. These guys are interesting."

Killer whales inhabit all of the world's oceans, but they are rarely seen in the waters off Maine.

The toothed whales eat fish and other marine mammals, and can grow to 19 to 22 feet long and 8,000 to 12,000 pounds, depending on whether they are female or male. Males can be identified by their especially tall dorsal fins.

Crew members on several New England fishing boats had a rare encounter with a pair of playful orcas five years ago on Wilkinson Basin, about 90 miles south of Portland. Train said he was lucky enough to be on one of those boats, which is why he knew what he was seeing last week.

"In '05 when I saw it, I didn't believe it," he said.

It was no coincidence that both of Train's close encounters occurred in April.

The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued an advisory Tuesday warning boat crews off the coast of Massachusetts to steer clear of migrating whales moving into the Gulf of Maine. North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales are endangered, and they're especially vulnerable to collisions with boats because they swim near shore, the groups said.

Killer whales have been seen in the area in past years, including some that were hunting tuna, said Anne Smrcina, spokeswoman for the sanctuary. But such sightings are indeed rare.


Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: jrichardson@pressherald.com


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