Victoria researcher Josh McInnes spotted the very rare Type D killer whale while crossing the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica. (Courtesy of Josh McInnes)

Victoria researcher finds ‘holy grail’ of killer whales

Encounter marks farthest south Type D orcas have been spotted

Victoria marine mammal scientist Josh McInnes has seen his fair share of killer whales over the past 16 years but was treated to a rare sight on a recent expedition.

While travelling with Lindblad Expditions/National Geographic, McInnes and other naturalists on the boat made their way through the treacherous Drake passage between South America and Antarctica. It was there, near Elephant Island, where they saw blows from spouts in the distance. While there are five types of killer whales in the southern hemisphere, the group came upon the rarest Type D killer whale.

“Initially nobody wanted to believe we had found them,” McInnes said.

Type D killer whales have a distinct, small eye patch which McInnes said he spotted on the whales when they came to the surface.

READ ALSO: Orca spotted in Victoria’s Inner Harbour

“I was like ‘oh my God that’s Type D’ and everybody went silent,” McInnes said. “We realized we found the holy grail … pretty much the rarest marine mammal.”

The elusive Type D killer whales have only been identified by researchers in recent years.

McInnes, who graduated from the University of Victoria and now works with the Marine Life Studies research organization in Monterey, California, said the encounter they had marks the farthest south these whales have been spotted.

He said in the past, the whales were seen near fishing boats as they stole fish to eat. This time around, they were in open water and even intermingling with fin whales, not showing signs of aggression or even hunting them.

READ ALSO: Southern resident orcas spotted off the coast of California

“It might indicate they are fish eaters more so than anything else, just because they were feeding alongside fin whales,” McInnes said. “Finding Type D killer whales in areas where no boats are is a goldmine because we’re seeing their natural behaviour.”

Due to the differences between Type D and other killer whales, McInnes said they could become a new species in the next five to 10 years.

While on the three-week expedition, McInnes said the crew managed to see four of the five ecotypes of whales in the southern hemisphere – Type A, Type B1, Type B2 and Type D. McInnes will be leaving for another expedition to Baja California on Jan. 9 and will head back to Antarctica at the end of the month.

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

During his three week expedition, Victoria researcher Josh McInnes and other naturalists on the same boat spotted four of the five ecotypes of killer whales in the southern hemisphere. (Courtesy of Josh McInnes)

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Cullen confirmed as B.C. NDP candidate for Stikine despite party’s equity policy

Former Tahltan Central Government President Annita McPhee said the process made her feel “abused”

Freeport — the camp site that was the region’s largest community

A story of the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

Burns Lake to get a pedestrian-activated light

The blind turn at the RBC crossing to get safer

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

B.C. food and beverage producers set record sales in 2019

Farmed salmon again leads international exports

Single vehicle rollover on Highway 16 claims life of young woman near Vanderhoof

The single vehicle incident occurred at Highway 16 and Hillcrest Way

Most Read