Sea Shepherd Captures Footage of Incredibly Rare “Type D” Orcas

While out on a mission to stop illegal fishing in the remote waters of the Indian Ocean, lucky members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on board the Bob Barker captured footage of a species of orca so rare and mysterious they’re almost never seen.

The pod observed during the encounter, who was spotted while the crew was passing between the Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos in the South Indian Ocean, are known as “Ecotype D” orcas. These orcas are characterized by large bulbous foreheads, shorter dorsal fins and tiny white eyepatches behind their eyes.

“The crew watched in awe as the 13 killer whales, including a small juvenile and a large male, used the six-metre swell to surf across the bow. For almost an hour the surf-show continued and was accompanied by bow riding, tail-slaps and breaches, said Erwin Vermeulen, chief engineer on the Bob Barker.

Sea Shepherd sent the images it took to Robert L. Pitman, a marine ecologist and Antarctic orca expert with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, who confirmed they were indeed Type D orcas and said in a statement that he didn’t think they have ever been filmed alive before.

Type D orcas are one of four known varieties of orca who live in the Antarctic, along with types A, B and C. The elusive Type D orcas were only first identified in 1955 when a pod was stranded at Paraparaumu Beach in New Zealand.

According to Sea Shepherd, after the stranding they were not seen again for nearly 50 years, while there have only been about 13 sightings to date including this one. Some believe the harsh conditions and inclement weather in their home range may have played a large role in helping them elude us for so long.

According to NOAA, very little is known of Type D orcas and what they eat, except that they have been spotted around ships fishing for toothfish, which are commonly marketed as Chilean seabass.

This encounter took place during Operation Icefish while the Bob Barker was in pursuit of a Nigerian-flagged toothfish poaching vessel that was illegally setting gillnets in the Southern Ocean.

However, while we don’t know much, scientists have still learned at least a few things about them. Last year, researchers, including Pitman, used samples from a skeleton that was kept after the 1955 stranding to sequence their genome and found that their genetic differences go back nearly 400,000 years. As Sea Shepherd explains, this makes them the second oldest type of orca and second most genetically divergent from other species.

The researchers studying them concluded that their differences may qualify them for being classified as an entirely new species or subspecies of orca, though they noted more research is still needed before making a final determination.

“Determining how many species of orcas there are is critically important to establishing conservation measures and to better understand the ecological role of this apex predator,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

82 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Cheryl coscia
cheryl coscia2 years ago

Amazing.

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Angev GERIDONI
Angev GERIDONI2 years ago

★ ★ ★ GREAT NEWS ★ ★ ★

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Respect the right of survival of every living life

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Debbie Miller
Debbie Miller2 years ago

that was wonderful...also, I signed the petition.

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cynthia B.
cynthia l2 years ago

wonderful thank you

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Ron Walker
RONALD Walker2 years ago

Thanks!! I once again learn something new. Thanks care 2 in keeping everyone inform

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Hent Catalina-Maria

Thanks

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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