Off the coast of Chile, fish tales have been big for decades. Stories from fishermen and tourists and lots of photos tell of a mysterious new killer whale. Now a team of researchers may have spotted a couple dozen markedly different orcas roaming the oceans.
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began trumpeting the discovery of the long-rumored “new” killer whale. Some outside experts are more cautious. They agree these whales are different—but say they’re waiting for DNA test results to determine whether these specimens are indeed a distinct species.
“This is the most different looking killer whale I’ve ever seen,” says Robert Pitman, NOAA marine ecologist. He’s part of the team that recently spotted the orcas off Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
How are these “new” whales different? The orca’s signature large white eye patch is tiny on these new guys, and their heads are more rounded and less sleek than normal killer whales. Their dorsal fins are also narrower and more pointed. At 20-25 feet long, they’re slightly smaller than most killer whales.
Michael McGowen, marine mammal curator at the Smithsonian, says calling the whale a new species without genetic data may be premature. Still, he says, “I think it’s pretty remarkable that there are still many things out there in the ocean like a huge killer whale that we don’t know about.”
A new species is an amazing find. Of course, no discovery surprises the Creator. “God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm.” (Genesis 1:21) Just imagine how many more species He may have created for our enjoyment and benefit!
“For 14 years I was looking for these guys. I finally got to see them,” Pitman says.
(This undated photo provided by Paul Tixier in March 2019 shows a Type D killer whale. Scientists are waiting for test results from a tissue sample, which could give them the DNA evidence to prove the new type is a distinct species. Paul Tixier/CEBC CNRS/MNHN Paris via AP)