Scientists discover different kind of killer whale off Chile

• An international team of researchers says they found a couple dozen of these distinctly different orcas roaming in the oceans off southern Chile in January.

• Scientists are waiting for DNA tests from a tissue sample but think it may be a distinct species.

Key highlights about the observation made

• The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration felt confident enough to trumpet the discovery of the long-rumoured killer whale on Thursday.

• Some outside experts were more cautious, acknowledging the whales are different, but saying they’d wait for the test results to answer the species question.

• This is the most different looking killer whale I’ve ever seen,” said Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S..

• Mr. Pitman said they are so different they probably can’t breed with other killer whales and are likely a new species. At 20 to 25 feet long, they are slightly smaller than most killer whales.

• In the Southern hemisphere, killer whales are considered all one species, classified in types A through C. This one is called type D or sub-Antarctic killer whales.

First record

• Scientists have heard about these distinctive whales ever since a mass stranding in New Zealand in 1955.

• Scientists initially thought it could be one family of killer whales that had a specific mutation, but the January discovery and all the photos in between point to a different type, Mr. Pitman said.

• “The type D killer whale lives in the most inhospitable waters on the planet. It’s a good place to hide.”

• Mr. Pitman got interested in this mysterious killer whale when he was shown a photograph in 2005.

• When he and others decided to go find them, they followed the advice and directions of South American fishermen, who had seen the whales poaching their fish.

• After weeks of waiting, about 25 of the whales came up to the scientist’s boat, looking like they expected to be fed.

• Equipment problems prevented the scientists from recording enough of the whale songs, but they used a crossbow to get a tissue sample.

• Mr. Pitman said the whales are so big and their skin so tough that it didn’t hurt them, saying the arrow “is like a soda straw bouncing off a truck tire”.


Mains Paper 3: Environment

Prelims level: Killer whale

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