WATCH: An Island researcher is part of a thrilling discovery team that may have unearthed a new subspecies of orca off the coast of South America. The orca, dubbed Type D, has a distinct tiny eye patch on a much blunter head and a large, pointed dorsal fin.
During the expedition to find an elusive orca, there were hours of rough seas off the coast of South America.
All aboard the NOAA research trip agreed the rough water was worth it when they took in what surfaced before them.
“It was disbelief at first,” said Jared Towers, a Fisheries and Oceans Canada researcher based in Alert Bay who was the only Canadian aboard the trip.
“And then we started scrambling, getting the crossbows and the cameras and the hydrophone ready,” said Towers.
What they found was no ordinary pod of orcas. It was one they had only heard stories of.
Photos of the orca began surfacing in the 1950s after a stranding off New Zealand.
Then in late January, an international research trip came upon a live, healthy group of 30 of the distinct looking whales off the coast of Chile. All of them marked by blunt foreheads, tiny eyepatches and larger than usual pointed dorsal fins.
So immediately Alert Bay orca researcher Jared Towers and researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration knew that this was the orca they had been looking for, for years.
“This is a type of killer whale that does live out there and that we know almost nothing about it,” said Towers from Alert Bay.
DNA samples taken from the orcas with darts are still being processed but researchers are confident this is a new subspecies of orca, one that feeds mostly on fish, like southern resident killer whales and marks a dream discovery for the Island’s Jared Towers.
“If this one is classified as a new species, it could very well be the last large mammal on the planet to be classified,” said Towers.
Right now, the potentially new orca has been named Type D awaiting final confirmation.