A Vancouver Island marine scientist can now count himself among the very few people who have seen one of the rarest kinds of killer whales on the planet.
Josh McInnes, a Victoria-based marine mammal scientist who works with the Marine Life Studies research organization in Monterey, Calif., has just returned from a three-week expedition in the Antarctic.
While in the treacherous Drake Passage, off the southern tip of South America, McInnes and the other researchers aboard the National Geographic vessel spotted some fin whales in the distance.
"We were scanning with binoculars and one of the other naturalists shouted out there was killer whales, as well," McInnes told CTV News. "Suddenly we realized what we had with these amazingly rare killer whales."
McInnes, a graduate of the University of Victoria, said there are 10 different kinds of killer whales globally; five in the Southern Hemisphere and five in the Northern Hemisphere.
One of the rarest among them is the Type D killer whale, which is what McInnes and the group had just come upon.
"The Type D were only identified in 2011 as a new morph or new form of killer whale," he said. "They're so rare due to the fact that they have a circumpolar, sub-Antarctic distribution and we really don’t know anything about them."
The Victoria resident said the recent encounter with the Type D whales marks the farthest south the mammals have ever been recorded.
"It was basically like finding a unicorn," McInnes said. "Seeing Type D killer whales was a bit of a life goal."
McInnes said that in the past the whales have been typically seen near fishing boats, so finding them in the open ocean was "a needle-in-a-haystack of a find."