Scientists may have finally confirmed a new species of killer whale

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The mysterious ‘Type D’ killer whale may have finally been confirmed in the waters off the southern tip of Chile.

At present, there are three known species of orca: types A, B and C.

Over the years, evidence has floated around of a fourth breed. A few sightings and some unexplained photographs as well as a body washing up in New Zealand in 1955 led researchers to write a paper in 2010 speculating on the existence of a ‘type D’ killer whale.

Type D killer whales pictured by the crew (Picture: NOAA Fisheries)

In 2015, researchers recorded the first known footage of these legendary creatures.

Now a team of scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have got close to a pod of what they believe are type D killer whales. The team were sailing the icy waters off Cape Horn in southern Chile aboard the research vessel Australis. They say they got close enough to the creatures to collect tissue samples.

The ship spent 3 hours with the whales (Picture: NOAA Fisheries)

Analysis based off the 1955 sample suggests that type D orcas evolved from their brethren around 390,000 years ago. To the untrained eye, they may look similar but in fact have bulbous heads, a more pointed fin and smaller distinctive white spots above their eyes.

Top: An adult ‘Type A’ male killer whale – note the size of the white eye patch, less rounded head and dorsal fin shape. Bottom: An adult male ‘Type D’ killer whale with a tiny eye patch, more rounded head, and more narrow, pointed dorsal fin (Picture: Uko Gorter/NOAA Fisheries)

‘We are very excited about the genetic analyses to come,’ said marine ecologist Bob Pitman from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center.

Pitman, who has been searching for the type D orca for over 14 years, added: ‘Type D killer whales could be the largest undescribed animal left on the planet and a clear indication of how little we know about life in our oceans.’

Part of the reason type D killer whales may have stayed hidden for so long is that they live in extremely inhospitable waters. They are contained to the freezing oceans just around the Antarctic circle.

Type D whales live in the freezing waters around Antarctica (Picture: NOAA Fisheries)

The crew of the Australis spent three hours among a group of about 30 whales, which approached the vessel many times.

Over the next few months, the DNA samples brought back from the expedition should finally reveal just how different the type D is from other killer whales.


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