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Orcas are fascinating animals. They are large, intelligent and sociable. But for all its interesting features, one whale in particular stands out for its non-compliance with the status quo. This particular killer whale, known as Old Thom, has attracted scientists and fishermen because it is a solitary individual. And when he was seen with his peers, it was not his peers, but a group of belugas.

Old Thom was first observed in the waters of the Bay of Fundy, Canada, more than 20 years ago and returns almost every year. On the American side, whales were sighted in Roseway Basin, New England, in August 2010, and have also visited Cape Cod in 2016, 2022 and 2023.

“Old Thom is a strange sight,” Lyne Morissette, CEO of maritime consulting firm Expertise Marine, told the CBC. “They are mostly social animals organised in groups or families.” While being alone is even stranger than the dolphins he chooses to spend time with, scientists say it shows Old Thom's flexibility and ability to make quick decisions.

People who encounter Old Thom quickly recognise him because of his strange companion, or tribe, but the whale also has some unique traits. For example, there is a difference in the three lower parts of the dorsal fin. Old Thom is approximately 25 to 30 feet long and weighs 8 tons. Orcas are often associated with the West Coast and indigenous communities have a centuries-old view of these animals. But even though Atlantic orcas are relatively little known, scientists hope Old Thom's findings will help them better understand the animal. “Old Thom is the essence of future science,” Morissette continued. “The first step in developing a program for killer whales in the Northwest Atlantic is understanding where they are, when they are here and why they are here.”

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