The ocean is amazing. It gives us killer whales, beluga whales, sperm whales, blue whales, and just when you think there can’t be any more whales, a mysterious possible new species rears its slick, rubbery head.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an international team of scientists anchored off the coast of Cape Horn, near the southernmost area of Chile, got a much-awaited glimpse of a mystery type of killer whale earlier this year. These whales, which have been named “Type D,” look like killer whales to the untrained eye, but have a different body shape, a more rounded head, and smaller, narrowed white markings around the eyes.
The researchers first saw the animals in January, and took some small, painless biopsies from the group to learn exactly how different they are from the killer whales we know and love.
“We are very excited about the genetic analyses to come,” said Bob Pitman, a researcher from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said in a release. “Type D killer whales could be the largest undescribed animal left on the planet and a clear indication of how little we know about life in our oceans.”
Scientists have actually known about these whales for more than 60 years. According to NOAA, a group of them washed up in New Zealand in 1955, and since then, their existence has been confirmed only by a few sightings and stories from local fishermen.
NOAA says they hope the DNA samples taken from the Type D whales will be able to reveal more about the mystery in a few months.