Type D whales

Killer whale scientists got pretty excited in January. That was when about 30 Type D killer whales were found off the southern tip of South America by the researchers.

The scientists are happy because not much is known about these whales, which are also known as orcas. To find out more, the researchers took patches of skin from the Type Ds to analyze.

Killer whales are not whales at all, they are actually the largest members of the dolphin family. They can grow up to 32 feet long — almost as long as a school bus — and weigh up to 18,000 pounds. Some killer whales hunt in packs for mammals like sea lions and will even eat birds. Others mainly dine on fish. When you see a bunch of them swimming around together that’s called a pod. When they are hunting it's called a pack. The black and white colors on their bodies help them hide as they hunt.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation group divides the orcas up into 10 different types.

“Known as ecotypes, these distinct types of orcas differ in size, appearance, prey preferences, foraging techniques, dialects, behaviors, and social groups,” according to the group’s website.

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Although the different types of orcas may swim in the same waters sometimes, they don’t seem to breed with each other or even hang out together. The Type Ds have been especially shy, so very little is known about them.

The first record of the unusual killer whales came in 1955, when 17 animals were found stranded on the coast of New Zealand, NOAA reported. "Compared to other killer whales they had more rounded heads, a narrower and more pointed fin on their back, and a tiny white eyepatch; no whales like it had ever been described.

”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," said Bob Pitman, a researcher from NOAA Fisheries.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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