Marine Expert on Orca Population in the Gulf of Mexico

In light of a recent sighting of orcas in the Gulf of Mexico, marine experts have confirmed that, indeed, there are killer whales out there.

In fact, they said that there is concern that the continuing search for oil in the Gulf could affect their migration.

It was this past weekend when a couple of local fishermen were returning from a fishing tournament, about 85 miles offshore from Port Aransas. That's when they spotted the orcas, and caught it all on video.

Experts at the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi were excited to hear about the video of the whales, because one of the last reported sightings was some five years ago.

Harte Research Institute Executive Director Larry McKinney said that orcas are uncommon, but do live in the Gulf. It is believed that there are around 500 of the creatures out there, normally living in the northern part of the Gulf. They usually travel in pods, and there can be hundreds swimming side-by-side.

McKinney said that five years ago, someone sighted a number of orcas in the same area that the fishermen spotted them.

So why did they show up now?

McKinney said that the blue water has moved in off our coast, which is causing large numbers of fish to move through our waters. He believes the orcas were probably following one of those schools of fish.

He also revealed that researchers are now taking a closer look at the animals and how well they are doing in the Gulf these days.

"Because of the increasing oil and gas exploration in the deep waters of the Gulf, there are sound issues," McKinney said. "These marine mammals communicate and find their way by sound, and anything that interferes with it is a concern."

McKinney said very little is known about the Gulf's orcas. He said that nowadays, with so many fisherman carrying video cameras and iPads, video of the animals can prove valuable to researchers.

The Harte Research Institute has a researcher who is an expert on whales and dolphins and will be taking a closer look at the whales in our Gulf waters in the coming years.


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