Skip to main content

Scientists Discover Long-Lost Orca Subspecies


Orcas, popularly known as killer whales, inhabit every ocean on planet earth—but they don’t all look the same. Scientists recognize many different subsets of the species. Some are larger than typical, some are smaller, and others have differently shaped bodies and markings.

In 1955, photos of a pod of killer whales stranded on a New Zealand showed a very different-looking orca species. According to Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was interviewed by National Public Radio about the whales, “The whales (called Type D killer whales) were smaller than other killer whales, and they had rounded heads and pointier fins. And most importantly, they had a tiny eye patch. Killer whales have a white spot under each eye. These patches were unusually small in the Type D killer whales, in some cases almost nonexistent.”

In 2005, Pitman was at a conference and he saw a photo of an odd-looking killer whale swimming in the southern Indian Ocean. “And I looked down, and there they were, the 1955 New Zealand killer whales," Pitman recalls. Then he assembled a team to go look for them.

After seeking shelter from a storm inside Cape Horn, the team got a 12-hour respite and went looking for the Type D whales. As the sun was coming up over the horizon, the team found themselves surrounded by the Type D whales. "It's like seeing a dinosaur or something. It's one of those moments that biologists live for, Pitman says. “That's it! That's the New Zealand killer whale!”

You can read the full story here



Lost At Sea

British sailor John Fisher, a crew member onboard Volvo Ocean Race Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, is presumed lost at sea after being washed overboard March 26 some 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn, Chile. Scallywag was sailing downwind in near-gale conditions when Fisher went over.


Maine Archeologists Discover 700-Year-Old Dugout Canoe

The Native American watercraft, believed to be the only one ever found that pre-dates European settlers, was found in the mud at Cape Porpoise, Maine.


Team Discovers 80-Year-Old Submarine Wreck

A team of ocean explorers has discovered the bow of the World War II-era submarine USS Grunion, which sank on its inaugural Pacific Ocean mission with 70 sailors aboard.


Why Orca Grandmas Matter

A new study suggests that young killer whales benefit from having their grandmothers around.


What’s On The Menu At The White Shark Café?

Scientists have been trying to figure out why California’s great white sharks take a month every year to travel to an empty spot in the Pacific Ocean that’s halfway toHawaii. A recent research expedition revealed that there might be a lot on the menu there for the sharks to eat. READ MORE


16 Days Lost At Sea

The Coast Guard on January 29 rescued Bahamian national Samuel Moss Jr., 24, from his partially sunken 21-foot walkaround off West Palm Beach, Florida. Moss was found severely dehydrated and partially paralyzed after drifting helplessly for 16 days. It’s not the first time Moss has been rescued.


Extreme Sailing

The ferocious Southern Ocean can bring the best sailors to their knees. Watch as crewmembers aboard a Volvo Ocean 65 struggle to maintain control of their boat as they blast through heavy seas on a reach.


Divers Solve 76-Year-Old Mystery

Divers working 70 miles off Cape May, New Jersey, last week discovered the wreckage of the Octavian, a Norwegian freighter that went missing in 1942.