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

BC Parks acquires private land in Cape Scott Provincial Park

Land previously held by B.C. land and cattle mogul Rudy Nielsen

Family Literacy Society surveying essential skills among displaced workers

Survey results will help get training opportunities to fufill real needs on the north Island

A thousand items donated to the Port Hardy RCMP’s summer toy drive

‘Building strong relationships with the people of our communities is fundamental to our success here’

VIDEO: Rescued eagle released back into the wild

The three-year-old female had been mired in grease at the landfill, but recovered with gusto

U’mista Cultural Centre will host a native art contest to raise funds for artists

All artists of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw descent are being called to participate in the contest to be held on August 28

STANDING TALL: For some, B.C.’s forest industry is the best office in the world

A look at the forest sector in B.C. – and those hoping for the best – amid mill curtailments

Bad behaviour at B.C. restaurants ignites campaign calling for respect

“If you can’t follow the rules, then stay home,” says BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Frustration mounts as Metchosin sheep slaughter continues

Metchosin mayor upset with B.C. Conservation’s response as bear feeds on farm animals

Over half of Americans oppose Trump tariff on Canadian aluminum: survey

The survey was conducted Aug. 7 to 9 among 1,513 Canadians and 1,003 Americans

Oh baby, what a birthday gift: $2.8M raised to help B.C. boy with rare disease

‘We are very thankful to everybody,’ Aryan Deol’s father says

‘Huckleberry’ the bear killed after B.C. residents admit to leaving garbage out for videos

North Shore Black Bear Society said it was local residents who created a ‘death sentence’ for bear

Police investigating after insults, expletives yelled at federal minister’s staff

A 90-second video circulating on social media appears to have been shot by the person who was yelling

Central Vancouver Island’s Green Mountain fire under full control

Fire fighters still monitoring site between Cowichan Lake and Nanaimo River

5 B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Most Read