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 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)

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

Surrey Little Theatre is located on 184th Street at Fraser Highway. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey Little Theatre, Langley Players look to merge as single company at 200th Street theatre

A ‘really exciting’ development for the volunteer-run theatre companies

A criminal trial for Robert Boule (inset), the owner of the Smuggler’s Inn, is to begin in August 2021, following a failed application to strike down immigration-act provisions that he is charged under. (Photo courtesy of The Northern Light newspaper)
Blaine inn owner’s challenge of immigration act fails

Robert Boule’s trial on human-smuggling charges set to begin August 2021

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. (File photo)
Surrey mayor taking it on the chin during budget public hearing

So far, he’s cut five callers off during Monday’s virtual meeting

RCMP. (File photo: Phil McLachlan/Black Press Media)
Surrey RCMP recover stolen semi-trailer and its $200K of cargo

Police say the cargo was found in separate location than the trailer

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Business groups have been advocating for years that local approvals for construction in B.C. are too long and restricted, and that B.C.’s outdates sales tax deter business investment. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents worried about COVID-19 deficit, business survey finds

Respondents support faster local approvals, value added tax

The first of two earthquakes near Alaska on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, is shown in blue. (USGS)
No tsunami risk after two earthquakes near Alaska

Both earthquakes hit near the U.S. state on Dec. 1

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Paramedics register patients at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadians not worried other countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first: poll

Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians

Most Read