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

VIDEO: Kootenay Patricks, Montreal Canadiens play to the crowd in Nelson

The charity game was a spectacle from puck drop

City of Nelson creates student opportunity

“We didn’t realize how much we needed this person until we met them.”

Whitewater’s Adam Kuch to compete at Freeride Junior World Championship

Kuch is one of four Canadians competing in his division

GREG SCOTT: Lack of snow threatens Nelson’s winter carnival

In 1970, the Winter Carnival Society was fretting over whether the third annual event would go ahead

Stepping Stones in need of clothing donations

The Nelson shelter is asking for help

Fashion Fridays: The basics you need for your body type

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Was Bigfoot just spotted on a Washington State webcam?

Sherman Pass is rougly 70 kilometres south of Grand Forks, B.C.

B.C. employer health tax wins ‘paperweight award’ for red tape

Businesses forced to estimate payroll, pay new tax quarterly

VIDEO: Dashcam records near-miss by bad driver near Sooke

Driver crossed four lanes of traffic and back over again, barely missing three other vehicles

New U.S. LNG terminal near northwestern B.C. town proposed

AlaskCAN International LNG wants terminal just over Canadian border, but using B.C gas

Couple wonders who’s in a Cariboo photo that’s been hanging in their home for years

Charles and Lynn Dick believe the image was taken at the 70 Mile Road House

Here’s what Canada is doing to stop the coronavirus from getting in

Health officials are monitoring multiple possible cases in Canada

‘I would not go’ to China says B.C. traveller concerned about coronavirus

Alice Li said she goes to China every other year but would scrap any travel plans

Royal Canadian Legion expels B.C. member for wearing unearned military commendations

‘Stolen valour is stolen service and it’s just totally wrong’

Most Read