Although the offshore waters of Belize are home to an incredible diversity of marine flora and fauna, the presence of orcas spotted near Ranguana Caye was a rare occurrence. A large killer whale, sometimes known as an orca, was spotted on December 29, 2016, heading north with another male adult and a juvenile.
Jason Westby, a freelance tour guide who operates fishing tours in conjunction with a number of local resorts, including Chabil Mar, spotted the three orcas between 9:30 and 10:30 AM on December 29, 2016, in the vicinity of Ranguana Caye and Palm Owens Caye on the Belize Barrier Reef. Westby told local media that a school of tuna was in the area, which may account for the presence of the three orcas, apex predators who regularly consume tuna as part of their diet.
Westby was alerted to the presence of the three killer whales when he heard a large splash. Westby then signaled to his clients that a “massive” animal was present near their location, but he told local media that he originally believed the animal was a marlin. Westby became alarmed as one of the male orcas “jumped straight at him like a freight train,” causing Westby to reverse his boat’s engine. Westby estimates that the two adult males were between 30-32 feet long, far bigger than the 23-foot skiff he was operating at the time of the sighting.
When the pod of orcas turned and headed north, Westby angled his boat to follow them for approximately half a mile. Two other tour group operators in the area, Blue Reef Adventures and an unnamed company helmed by Rowland Alford, managed to capture the encounter on video.
Another giant of the ocean deeps is a more frequent visitor to the waters off of Belize. Whale sharks, the largest fish species on the planet, migrate to the Belize Barrier Reef every year between March and June to feed on enormous quantities of spawn and juvenile fish. Orcas are rarely seen in the waters off of Belize, and the last known sighting occurred in 2014 near Maugre Caye in the Turneffe Atoll region prior to the December 29, 2016, encounter.
One of the premier diving experiences in Belize is interacting with the whale sharks during their time in Belizean water. In order to protect the whale sharks, only licensed tour operators are allowed to bring divers into the area in carefully limited groups. Chabil Mar, the award-winning resort on the Placencia Peninsula, offers visitors a chance to see whale sharks up close and personal with their Belize whale shark diving package.
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