Called the ‘Type-D’ orca, mitochondrial DNA evidence suggests that this killer whale diverged from the species almost 400,000 years ago.
A recent study speculates that a rare type of killer whale seen in the waters of Chilean Antarctica could be an entirely separate species.
There may be a new species of Orca swimming the Chilean-Antarctic waters.Photo via the NOAA Photo Library / Flickr
“These orcas, you notice they’re different, they have an incredibly distinctive look,” Phillip Morin a geneticist from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) told the Santiago Times. “Compared to other orcas they have a very small white eye patch and a bulbous forehead. And that sets them apart from all other killer whales we know about.”
Scientists from both the University of Copenhagen and SEFSC concluded that this killer whale was the elusive “Type-D” orca — last seen washed up on the coast of New Zealand in 1955.
Researchers preserved the body of one of these strange orcas at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in the hopes that another would one day appear. With no sign of a similar killer whale after fifty years, experts were beginning to write the New Zealand orca off as a deformity. But then the photographs started rolling in.
“We realized this whale was alive, that it is distinct and that it has a very large territory,” Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist from NOAA told National Geographic .
Biologists then attempted to capture a live Type-D orca in order to determine why these killer whales had such different characteristics. This endeavor has so far proved beyond them.
“The killer whales inhabit some of the most turbulent oceans in the world, which explains the lack of sighting and makes live research next to impossible,” the study, published in Polar Biology, says.
So scientists did the next best thing and performed experiments on the New Zealand specimen. The results were astonishing.