Ol’ Tom showed up on the same day that Brier Island was finally blessed with a bit of sunshine.
Snow and grey skies had dominated the landscape for seven days straight, and this tiny Digby Neck community of 172 souls needed a boost.
Maybe their old friend, the curious and playful killer whale, knew this when he greeted one of its residents Wednesday morning, marking the sixth straight year he’s been spotted frolicking (with no other killer whale in sight) in the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.
Daniel Kenney was out lobster fishing and Ol’ Tom hung around long enough for him to snap a few pics of the spectacle.
News travelled fast. Amy Tudor, a community resident and whale watching tour guide, was overjoyed. She shared the news on Facebook, photos and all, to great fanfare.
“He’s a Fundy favourite and he’s very out of place around here,” said Tudor.
“We don’t have an orca population here, so when we get a visit from Ol’ Tom, it is very exciting news in our community. He’s unusual. He breaks a lot of orca rules.”
For starters, orcas typically travel in packs. Not so for Ol’ Tom, who arrives on his own or, on occasion, with a school of dolphins. In fact, he appeared to be joined by what looked like a porpoise Wednesday, said Tudor.
But he’s almost always up for a good time, having been photographed or
videotaped heckling fisherman for bait or using buoys as toys. During the summer of 2012, he was photographed breaching completely out of the water.
He’s identified by a distinct nick in his dorsal fin. His name was given to him by a researcher who likened his reoccurring presence to that of a tomcat.
Last photographed in July, he makes his presence known usually from late summer to early fall. This is the first time he’s been snapped this early in the year.
“Either it’s really early on in his 2018 visit or he’s late on his 2017 visit,” said Tudor with a laugh.
She last saw him in the flesh while leading a whale watching tour off Brier Island in 2014.
“He’s very social. He’ll swim alongside the boat. If he’s in a good mood, he’ll swim along and show his tail.”
Hal Whitehead, a Dalhousie University biology professor and whale expert, said it’s unusual for killer whales to be travelling alone, but he figures maybe Ol’ Tom has no other option.
“One presumption is that all the other members in his group have died,” said Whitehead.
“They are very social and they have a very particular group they go around with and only very rarely do they switch. He’s making a living but his social needs are not being met by other killer whales, but I’m just speculating.”
As for Ol’ Tom swimming with dolphins and making friends with Brier Island residents, that doesn’t surprise Whitehead.
“It would suggest that dolphins aren’t what heeats. Perhaps he’s more
of a fish eater, and different whale and dolphin species are quite often seen with each other. They are all very social creatures, and that may be another way for him to get his social fix.
“The entrance to the Bay of Fundy is extremely productive, all kinds of creatures to eat. Killer whales have an incredibly diverse diet so he could be eating seals, bottom fish, herring, sea birds or porpoises.”
Either way, the countdown for the next sighting has begun.
“We have so many people signing up to our tours in September and early October just so that they might get a glimpse of him,” said Tudor.
“The hardest times are when you see him and have to part ways. You never know if you’re going to see him again.”