Type D Killer Whale: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

The dorsal fin of a female Orca

The dorsal fin of a female Orca chasing herrings January 14, 2019, in the Arctic Circle. Climate change is reportedly forcing Orcas north.

The Type D killer whale has been observed in the wild for the first time. Robert Pitman, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the discovery of the highly likely new species is “a clear indication of how little we know about life in our oceans.”

In January, NOAA scientist waited for a week off the coast of southern Chile in the storms of Cape Horn to see the whales.

Here’s what you need to know:


1.  The Type D Orcas Were Discovered in the Southern Hemisphere

Scientists of team Australis took small samples of skin from the orcas to determine whether they are a new species. “They collected three biopsy samples—tiny bits of skin harmlessly taken from the whales with a crossbow dart—from a group of Type D killer whales,” according to NOAA.

“The team is currently waiting on an export permit to take the sample out of Chile,” reports National Geographic. The results of the samples will take a few months to process. The genetic research will keep scientist busy for years once the processing is complete.

“These samples hold the key to determining whether this form of killer whale represents a distinct species,” said Pitman.


2. The Whales Were Spotted About 60 Miles From Land

Pitman has been on the search for the Type D killer whale for 14 years. When they were discovered in one of the stormiest areas of the world, nerves were wearing thin. “To be honest, morale had dissipated a bit,” ecologist Jared Towers recounted the January mission in an interview, reports The Globe and Mail. “Our time was starting to run out.”

“The Australis spent three hours among a group of about 30 whales, which approached the vessel many times. When killer whale vocalization expert Rebecca Wellard towed a hydrophone behind the boat to record Type D calls, whales immediately came over to inspect it. From wide-angle cameras mounted on her hydrophone, she obtained revealing underwater images as the curious whales showed details of their unique color patterning and body shape,” according to NOAA.

Documented killer whales have larger white eye patches, less rounded head, and dorsal fin shape. Type D killer whales have a small eye patch, more rounded head, and narrower pointed dorsal fin.


3. Type D Might be a Unique Species

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— Um novo e misterioso tipo de Orca pode ter sido identificado — Pela primeira vez, cientistas conseguem filmar e estudar as raríssimas Orcas ecotipo D!!! E em regiões austrais, em meio a mares extremamente agitados, vivem Orcas misteriosas que parecem bem diferentes das demais, e pela primeira vez, cientistas as localizaram e as estudaram em seu habitat. “É muito provável que elas sejam de uma nova espécie”, diz Robert Pitman, pesquisador da Administração Oceânica e Atmosférica Nacional (NOAA americana). Esta reflexão é resultado de um encontro de uma equipe de cientistas com Orcas tipo D ocorrida em janeiro a cerca de 100 km da costa do Cabo Horn, no Chile, região conhecida pelo "pior clima do mundo", acrescenta Robert. Essas Orcas eram conhecidas anteriormente somente por fotografias amadoras, descrições de pescadores e por um encalhe em massa, porém nunca haviam sido observadas na natureza por especialistas em cetáceos. Ao contrário dos outros tipos conhecidos de Orcas, elas possuem a cabeça mais arredondada, a barbatana dorsal mais pontiaguda e estreita e a mancha branca característica acima dos olhos bem menor, além de serem menores em comprimento. Já se sabe de diferentes tipos de Orcas, “mas certamente esta é mais diferente de todas”, disse Robert. O encontro com as Orcas se deu numa área onde pescadores haviam relatado avistamentos. A equipe de cientistas passou uma semana no local e não demorou até que um grupo de vinte e cinco delas aparecesse próximo ao navio. Durante esse período, foi possível filma-las acima e abaixo da água e até coletar uma pequena amostra de gordura (técnica de pesquisa comum e inofensiva) para estudo do DNA. Dessa forma, será possível de fato determinar se realmente se trata de uma nova espécie (a equipe ainda aguarda uma licença de exportação para retirar a amostra do Chile). Curiosas, as Orcas passaram um bom tempo em torno do navio e, embora tenham inspecionado atentamente o hidrofone colocado na água pelos pesquisadores, não fizeram nenhuma vocalização. (Cont.)

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Killer whales are currently considered one species, but Type D might mark the discovery of a new one. Once the DNA is analyzed and other observations, the scientist will know. If not, they will be considered a sub-species.

“The first documented evidence of the Type D killer whale dates back to 1955 when 17 whales were stranded on the New Zealand coast,” reports The Globe and Mail. In the early 2000s, more people were able to capture images of the whales allowing Pittman to lead publication of a study in the journal Polar Biology.

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⠀ with the exciting recent news about type D killer whales circulating, it’s easy to assume that this is the first time that the species has been recorded. however, this isn’t the first time that the “mysterious” type D orca have been seen or caught on camera! the species has been known since the 1950’s when there was a mass stranding in New Zealand, pictured above. they were spotted again in the Crozet Islands in 2003, and sightings of type D killer whales have been recorded dozens of times since! a few research papers have also been published in the past decade by biologists who were able to study the whales in the field. there is even a photo-identification catalogue for the species published in 2014 by Paul Tixier! however, this doesn’t mean that you should be disappointed! the recent three-week expedition conducted by Bob Pitman, researcher for NOAA, provided us with DNA for genetic analysis of the species. the biopsy samples will be analyzed by scientists in the next few months, providing us with new, exciting information on type D orcas! sources: 1) @flukeprintphotography – tumblr, 2) Hillary Leung – TIME science article photos: 1) Orca Research Trust Archives 2) Paul Tixier #research #typedkillerwhale #typedorcas #dolphin #cetacean #orca #killerwhale #orcas #underwater #marinelife #saveourseas #saveourplanet #orca #ocean #oceanside #nature #travel #sea #animalkingdom #savethewhales #wildlifephotography #anticap #procap #emptythetanks #discoverocean

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4. Orca Diets Vary by Type

There are three types of orca in the North Pacific: resident, transient and offshore. But, NOAA says, “Those types can be separated into smaller populations. The organization notes, for instance, that there are four populations of resident whales each with ‘its own unique diet, behaviors, social structure and habitat,'” reports Azula.

Preferred prey is part of what denotes various orca sub-species. There are three other types of Southern Hemisphere orcas, Types A, B, & C, with B having two subgroups. Type A orcas get up to 31 feet in length and hunt minke whale. Large Type B orcas eat seals in the Antarctic continent. Less is known about the Type C orca diet, but they do eat penguins. Type D orcas have been seen eating Patagonian toothfish.


5. Orcas are Amazing

“They [Type D orcas] are pretty elusive. Part of the problem is they live in one of the most inhospitable parts of the planet, notorious for strong winds and huge seas, so it’s really difficult to conduct cetacean [marine mammal] research there,” says whale ecologist Towers.

The big news is the collection of skin tissues means DNA, and together with their other observations, these are what scientists need to determine if the Type D orca is its own species.


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