A New Species of Orcas? Don’t tell the Whale Killers!

(Photo by J.P. Sylvestre/NOAA)

By now most orca-addicts know that the recent rare sighting of orcas in the subantarctic area of the ocean could signify a new species. Some have heard of this mysterious orca, but very few have ever seen one of these fabled mammals.

There are photos of these orcas that date back to 1955.  A few other photos surfaced in 2005 confirming that these orcas were still alive and hadn’t been made extinct by the Japanese whale slaughter in the southern ocean.

Although an actual orca, these whales do have a different appearance than the orcas most are familiar with. For starters, they’re smaller and have a more rounded head. Most interesting, however, is the very small eye patch they have (compared to the orca eye patch most are familiar with).

Scientists are currently studying bits of whale skin nipped off by darts fired from a crossbow. The dart does no “critical” damage to the whale, and both the dart and the skin can then be retrieved from the water. A genetic analysis will determine how this new orca compares to other killer whales. (I wonder why this is necessary.)

It’s been reported that these smaller orcas are often chased off by the larger ones when both are grabbing fish from fishermen’s nets. If these new whales don’t socialize or breed with the other orcas, that could account for their differing structure and size.

There likely won’t be many whale-watching trips to see these orcas, however, since they live in the 40-50 degree area of the southern ocean. This “Roaring 40s” area is the most violent, storm-prone area in the world since there are no land masses to break up the waves…or the weather. Maybe this distant, formidable habitat will enable them to stand a chance of survival now that they’ve been found!

Can we assure them the right to continue to live harpoon free?