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An illustration comparing a Type D orca, bottom, with a more common killer whale. Credit…Uko Gorter

Up until recently, scientists have believed that there were 3 species of Killer Whales (Residents, Transients & Offshores) and 10 different sub species (this includes Type D Killer Whales).  Five subspecies in the Northern Hemisphere and 5 subspecies in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Northern five consist of our very own endangered Resident Killer Whales and Bigg’s Transients as well as Offshore Killer Whales, Eastern North Atlantic Type 1 and Eastern North Atlantic Type 2.  The Southern groups to date consist of Antarctic Type A, Pack Ice large type B, Gerlache small type B, Ross Sea Killer Whales and the most elusive of all, the Type D sub antarctic Killer Whales.

But recent news from some very excited scientists (including BC’s very own DFO scientist Jared Towers) believe that the Type D Killer Whales may in fact be a whole new species!  But why do scientists believe they have found a new species?  Well, Type D Killer Whales (see bottom left whales of image above) are typically a lot smaller than our other sub species.  The shape of their head is a lot different to the rest and their white eye patch is considerably smaller than the others.  Jared Towers said it is not clear that the Type Ds will be confirmed as a distinct species. Killer Whales can have their own culture, dialect, preferred prey and physical adaptations to their habitat, but even with those unique attributes, they may still be deemed a sub species.

In 2018, scientists documented more than 200 new living species from 18 different groups, a majority of them invertebrates.  This just shows how little we truly know about our Marine Life.  The Ocean is such a wonderful place that is clearly still hanging on to many secrets – some of which we may never know about.  The fact that Type D Killer Whales are seen so rarely just shows that there may be more species of cetaceans out there waiting to be identified.  In fact, scientists are still unsure if the Killer Whales in the Strait of Gibraltar that hunt Tuna are even a sub species at all.  They could absolutely be their very own species.

Type D Killer Whales were first recorded in 1955 from a pod that washed up on a New Zealand beach.  Skulls were kept and pictures were taken but it took until 2010 to gather enough evidence to confirm these whales as their own sub species.  Now we wait for the exciting news from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries regarding the DNA samples collected by Towers and his team in January.  We are sitting on the edge of our seats too so as soon as the results are published we will let you know!  Stay tuned through our Blog Page or our Facebook Page for more news on this issue.

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