Orcas are often found in cooler ocean areas, like Alaska, British Columbia, and Norway. So it’s understandable that a group of fishing buddies were surprised when they happened upon a pod of four orcas in the ocean waters off Key Largo.
A July 2023 video of the orcas in Key Largo by Mike Slaughter has gone viral on social media, and many theorize why the animals were there. Orcas would rarely be in Florida waters, which are much warmer than they are used to. Especially when the water temperatures are the warmest they've been on record.
Here's what you need to know about orcas in Key Largo, explained.
A viral video shows orca whales spotted in the Florida Keys.
Slaughter and several of his friends set out to go fishing for swordfish off Key Largo on July 24, 2023, when they encountered the orca pod about 18 miles offshore in about 1,700 feet of water, the Miami Herald reports.
Slaughter took a video of the encounter and posted it to his Instagram account. In Slaughter’s video, two of his friends get into the water to look at the massive creatures through snorkeling gear.
As one of the men floats at the top of the water, the largest orcas approach the boat, getting dangerously close.
“Oh, he’s coming right at you! The big boy!” says one of the men still on the boat. The giant orca swims dangerously close to the man in the water. “He’s looking right at you!”
You’d think that getting that close to an apex predator would make the man get out of the water. But no. Instead, another man jumps in.
“Orca bait in the water,” said a man on the boat, presumably Slaughter, who was videotaping. “They can smell your livers.”
In an interview with NBC6, Slaughter said one of the orcas came out of the water with a large piece of meat in his mouth. “You could smell it. It was really cool,” he told the station.
You shouldn't get in the water with orcas.
While there aren’t many reports of orca attacks on humans, marine biologist Gerard Loisel told Miami’s NBC6 that if you see an orca while swimming or snorkeling, “you should get out to the water.”
Orcas are rare in Florida.
It is rare to have orcas in Florida ocean waters, but it's not entirely unheard of, Loisel tells NBC6. However, he said orca sightings usually involve just one animal, not a pod.
"It's not like it never happens, but it's rare. It's unusual for them to occur this far south," Loisel said.
In January 2023, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a 21-foot female orca was found dead on a beach in Palm Coast, Fla. According to Blair Mase, Southwest Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, two populations of orcas are found in Florida waters, the Times reports.
“We do get sightings of healthy killer whales and killer whale pods from fishermen offshore,” Mase told the Tampa Bay Times in January.
Based on the current rate of the climate crisis, this may not be the last time orcas are spotted in unusual locations.