"Five Orcas in Johnstone Straight" by Winky / CC BY 2.0

Secret Group of Killer Whales Discovered in Southern Ocean

Mar 8, 2019

By Kimberly Hickok

Killer whales are beautiful and majestic, but there’s very little variation in what they look like — their shape, size and coloring are pretty standard from whale to whale. So, when people started spotting killer whales with a noticeably different physique — thinner, with much smaller white eye patches and narrower, sharp dorsal fins — scientists paid attention.

In January, an international team of researchers tracked down these potential killer whale imposters and collected samples for genetic testing that will reveal whether or not the animals are a newfound, distinct species of killer whale.

“We are very excited about the genetic analysis to come,” Bob Pitman, a researcher from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, said in a statement. “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.”

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