Mysterious killer whales seen off the coast of Chile could be a new species

Samples collected from the whales will decide if its different pattern & shape are new to science.

Deep beneath some of the world's roughest seas live a mysterious species of killer whales that look very different from other orcas. For the first time after it was spotted off the coast of Chile, the killer whale, which could potentially be a new species altogether, is to be studied by an international team of scientists.

Many tourists and fisherman in Pacific waters along Chile's coastline have reported and captured photos of killer whales that look remarkably different than the others, according to a report in the Independent.

The research team threw down an anchor and waited a week on a ship near Cape Horn to encounter the unusual whales, which go by the name "Type D" for the time being.

Marine biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) managed to spot and collect three biopsies from the orcas to analyze, NOAA scientists said in a statement. The samples are currently being analyzed using genetic tests to find out whether the whales really are a new species.

Mysterious killer whales seen off the coast of Chile could be a new species

An illustration showing visible differences in the in eye patches, head shape, and dorsal fins of adult male ‘regular’ killer whales (top) and Type D killer whales (bottom). Image courtesy: NOAA/Uko Gorter

Bob Pitman, a marine ecologist who was part of the team that spotted the whales, said that 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."

Compared to better-known killer whales (Types A, B and C), Type D whales have a more rounded head, more pointed and narrow (dorsal) fins along their sides and a tiny white patch around the eyes.

Scientists initially speculated that the unique features of these whales might be because of a genetic mutation that only affected a handful of animals. But the same, odd-looking eye patches and rounded heads were seen in photographs of whales among other poaching catch from commercial fishing lines in 2005 in the southern Indian Ocean.

"Unlike types A to C, Type D killer whales are marginally smaller and thought to survive on fish rather than larger marine mammals like seals. The fact that we know so little about them could simply be a factor of distance," Pitman said.

The whales are hard to find since they live far south, away from shore, "in the most inhospitable waters on the planet", he added. "It's a good place to hide."

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