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Rare Type D Orcas: Never Before Seen Footage

Jan 06, 2015 12:56 PM EST

The NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center has just confirmed that footage taken by members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does indeed feature a pod of rare, "Ecotype D" orcas - a type of killer whale never before captured live on film. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit:Chief Engineer, Erwin Vermeulen of the Bob Baker / Sea Sheppard]

The footage was captured by the crew of the Bob Baker, while the ship passed between Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos in the South Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2014.

The Bob Baker is a recognized member of the Sea Shepherd fleet, and its crew were giving chase to a poaching vessel identified as the Thunder when they encountered these incredibly rare orcas. They stayed with the animals for nearly an hour, even at the risk of losing track of their quarry.

According to a statement from the Sea Shepherd team, "the encounter was photographed and filmed, and images of the encounter were forwarded to Marine Ecologist and (Antarctic) Orca expert, Robert L. Pitman, of Southwest Fisheries Science Center... for review."

Pitman recently replied to their emails, confirming that based on his observations, these whales were in fact Type D orcas.

"I don't think they have ever been filmed alive," he told Sea Shepherd.

According to the Center for Whale Research, Type D whales are also known as subantarctic orcas, and are "easily distinguished from other ecotypes because of the very tiny eyepatch and more bulbous mellon" topping their head.

They were first identified in 1955, when a mass stranding occurred that allowed experts to get their hands on photographs of these animals for the first time. (Scroll to read on...)

via Pitman et al. Polar Biology/NOAA
(Photo : Evening Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library) via Pitman et al. Polar Biology/NOAA

Since then, they have rarely ever been seen, except occasionally following vessels looking for Chilean seabass.

Experts believe this may be the 14th documented sighting of these animals ever, and since it occurred while the Bob Baker was hunting toothfish poachers, it stands to reason that the orcas have toothfish on the menu. However, we can really only speculate about their diet and behavior.

Sea Shepherd is often referred to as a 'radical' conservation group that uses "direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas."

However, at times, they aid in research as well, and were clearly thrilled to play a part in identifying these remarkably rare orcas.

"Determining how many species of orcas there are is critically important to establishing conservation measures and to better understand the ecological role of this apex predator," they said.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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