tiger shark

A very large tiger shark can be seen swimming in the foreground, top, circling the remnants of a sun-baked spindle beak whale carcass floating on the ocean surface.

The other day I was fishing with a couple of “sportsmen” visiting from out West. One angler from Utah surprised me by asking a question I had never been asked before: “Don’t you ever get tired of going out fishing?” I quickly responded: ”No” and then turned to my fisherman and explained how “the thing that keeps me excited about fishing in the Florida Keys is you never know what you are going to catch.”

Shortly thereafter my “freshwater fisherman” caught his first blowfish and immediately became fascinated by the unusual appearance of this strange-looking saltwater fish, especially when it started puffing up its chest (or as I jokingly said ... doing an impersonation of Dolly Parton). I took this opportunity to explain how the waters around the Florida Keys are formed at the crossroads of the roaming Gulf of Mexico Loop currents and the powerful Gulf Stream current to the south. As a result, we live directly in the path of multiple fish migrations, and our unique biodiversity provides Keys fishermen with the opportunity to observe some truly amazing sights.

To reinforce this point, I mentioned how a fellow captain recently reported seeing a huge school of bluefin tuna (very rare in the Keys) busting the surface of the ocean offshore as they made their annual high speed migration up into the Gulf of Mexico to breed.

To further emphasize the unpredictability of fishing in the ocean, I pointed in the direction of Texas and told him a recent news report about some deep-sea fishermen who encountered (and recorded) “a large pod of Orcas.” I had to confess I didn’t even know orcas resided in the Gulf of Mexico, as I always assumed orcas only lived in cold-water environments. However, scientists now estimate there are approximately 500 orcas living in the deeper regions of the Gulf of Mexico.

While I have personally seen minke whales in the offshore waters of the Keys, and have also heard reports of sperm whale sightings in the Gulf of Mexico waters, I was surprised to learn the number of whale species that live in the waters in the Gulf. I was even more taken aback to find out a few varieties of really large whales have been spotted migrating into these warm waters to breed and feed.

The recent identification of a brand new species of whale in the Gulf, the rice whale, serves as a reminder that the ocean is full of secrets. While this variety of whale was originally consider to be related to the Bryde’s whales, DNA evidence has now clearly shown that rice whales are indeed a separate and unique species of whale.

All this whale talk reminds me of the day I spotted a dead spindle beak Whale floating on the surface of the ocean while fishing offshore. As we approached the macabre scene, I noticed three very large tiger sharks circling the carcass and watched intently as the sharks took turns rushing in and biting off massive chunks of the whale carcass.

If you are a lucky fisherman, you may actually get the chance to spot some of these whale species that reside in the Gulf of Mexico: sperm; minke; sei; Bryde’s; or rice. A few extremely fortunate anglers might even get to experience a rare sighting of the much larger humpback, blue or fin whales.

The fact is you never know exactly what you are going to see when you head out in a boat off the Florida Keys, which is one of the reasons I’m confident I will never “get tired of going fishing!”

Capt. Pete Peterson welcomes comments and suggestions sent to petersonventures@aol.com.