Scientists have spotted rare Type D killer whales in choppy waters off of Cape Horn, South America

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Most of us have heard of killer whales or orcas but a team of researchers has just laid eyes on a new type of killer whale that looks quite different from the other known orcas!

Scientists have spent the last decade searching for this mysterious animal.  They were sure it existed because of photographs, fishermen’s sightings, and from pictures of a few stranded on a beach in New Zealand some 60 years ago. But no one had ever been able to study them in the wild — until now.

In January 2019, an international team of scientists set out on a ship named Australis from Cape Horn, Chile in some of the roughest seas. They searched an area where fishermen had recently spotted these rare animals. After dropping anchor for more than a week a pod of about 25-30 rare killer whales finally surrounded the ship.

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They were thrilled to encounter these animals also referred to as type D killer whales. The researcher on the mission that got to study the animals said that unlike the other three known types of orcas, these type D orcas are different. They are smaller in size (20 to 25 feet long) and have rounder foreheads, smaller teeth, smaller fins on their backside (the dorsal fin) and smaller white patches below their eyes.

Even though the different type of killer whales have different physical features and behaviors, all killer whales are considered to be a single species: Orcina orca.  But this team of scientists believes that these orcas are “highly likely” to be a new species. How will they find out? Luckily,  they were able to get close enough to collect tissue samples from the pod of whales using a painless crossbow dart. These biopsies will help to learn exactly how different they are from the killer whales we know and love. Watch the NOAA video for more details.


Adapted By: Biyash Choksey

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