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The whales are smaller than other types of killer whales and have rounded heads and pointier fins.
Scientists have discovered an elusive ‘mysterious type of killer whale’ that biologists have been trying to find since the mid-1950s. The scientific team found the orcas in January about 60 miles off the coast of Cape Horn, Chile, at the very tip of South America.
"This was a very different-looking group of killer whales," Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated. The whales are smaller than other types of killer whales and have rounded heads and pointier fins.
"And most importantly," Pitman added, "they had a little tiny eye patch," a white spot under each eye that is characteristic of killer whales.
The patches on some of the newly found whales are unusually small and in other instances almost nonexistent.
Scientists used crossbow darts to take tiny bits of skin from the whales, which will be tested to determine if the orcas are indeed a new group of killer whales.
"From the beginning, I had referred to it as the needle in the haystack," she says. "It's a big ocean, and it's a rough ocean," team member and Pitman’s spouse NOAA biologist Lisa Ballance expressed.
The species lives in regions of the ocean near Antarctica. “If you’re a large animal trying to hide from science, that’s exactly where you’d want to do it,” Pitman mused.
The new orca species is referred to as a 'Type D' by the group of scientists, who also disclosed that the whales have a distinct color pattern and body shape.
Type D whales were previously only known through beach strandings, fishermen stories and tourist photos.
The scientists have also theorized that the whales are possibly the largest animal to have remained unidentified by biologists.