WASHINGTON (AP) – For decades, there were tales of fishermen and tourists, even many photos, of a mysterious killer whale that did not look like everyone else, but scientists had never seen one.
Now they have.
An international team of researchers claims to have found a dozen orc in the oceans in southern Chile in January. Scientists are waiting for DNA tests from a tissue sample, but they think it may be a distinct species.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has felt confident enough to trump the discovery of the long murdered orphan that is said on Thursday. Some outside experts were more cautious, recognizing that the whales are different, but saying that they would wait for the test results to respond to the species question.
"This is the most diverse whale I've ever seen," said Robert Pitman, NOAA's marine ecologist in San Diego. He was part of the team that identified the killer whales off Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
How is it different? The large white spot on the eye of the whale is tiny on these new boys, barely perceptible. Their heads are a little more rounded and less shiny than regular killer whales and their dorsal fins are narrower and more pointed.
They probably eat mainly fish, not marine mammals like seals, like other killer whales, said Pitman. The fishermen have complained about how good they are to hunt the fishing lines, tearing away 200 kilos of fish.
Pitman said they are so different that they probably can not breed with other killer whales and are probably a new species. 20 to 25 feet long (6 to 7.5 meters), they are slightly smaller than most orcas. In the southern hemisphere, the killer whales are all considered a species, classified in types A to C. This is called type D or subantarctic whales.
Michael McGowen, Smithsonian marine mammals curator, said that calling him a new species without genetic data could be premature. Still, he said, "I think it's quite remarkable that there are still many things out there in the ocean as a huge killer whale we know nothing about."
Scientists have heard about these distinctive whales since when, in 1955, they clashed en masse in New Zealand. Initially scientists thought it might be a family of killer whales with a specific mutation, but the January discovery and all photos in the middle indicate a different type, Disse Pitman said.
He said they are hard to find because they live far south and far from the coast, unlike most killer whales.
"The D-type killer whale lives in the most inhospitable waters on the planet – it's a good place to hide."
Pitman was interested in this mysterious killer whale when he was shown a photograph in 2005. When he and others decided to go look for them, they followed the advice and directions of the South American fishermen, who had seen the whales while sinking their fish.
After weeks of waiting, about 25 of the whales approached the scientist's boat, with the appearance of those who expected to be fed. Equipment problems prevented scientists from recording enough whale songs, but used a crossbow to get a tissue sample. Pitman said the whales are so big and their skin so hard they do not hurt them, saying the arrow "is like a soda bouncing off a truck tire".
Pitman said he will never forget Jan. 21 when he finally saw his first and then a group of type D orcs.
& # 39; & # 39; For 14 years I was looking for these guys. I finally managed to see them, "said Pitman.
He recognized that he looked like a captain looking for revenge in the classic novel "Moby-Dick".
& # 39; & # 39; I think I know how Ahab felt, but for a good reason ", said Pitman.
The Department of Health and Science of the Associated Press receives support from the Howard Hughes Institute of Education Sciences. The AP is solely responsible for all content.