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Killer whales are beautiful and majestic, but there's very little variation in what they look like — their shape, size and coloring are pretty standard from whale to whale. So, when people started spotting killer whales with a noticeably different physique — thinner, with much smaller white eye patches and narrower, sharp dorsal fins — scientists paid attention.
In January, an international team of researchers tracked down these potential killer whale imposters and collected samples for genetic testing that will reveal whether or not the animals are a newfound, distinct species of killer whale.
Baby - T - Rex - Ball - Fluff
Baby T. rex was an adorable ball of fluff!
Until now, the existence of this potentially newfound species was based only on stories from fishers and a handful of photographs.
Record - Whales - Animals - Coast - New
The first record of these mysterious whales dates back to 1955 when 17 of the animals stranded on the coast of New Zealand. While their markings resembled known killer whales, these animals were smaller, with a blunt snout and bulbous head. The stranded whales also had narrower, pointy dorsal fins and much smaller white patches above their eyes compared with typical killer whales. Experts speculated that the unusual whales were simply a product of a genetic aberration that existed in only those individuals.
Then, in 2005, a French scientist showed Pitman photos of some odd-looking killer whales that were stealing fish from fishers in the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. The whales looked just like the ones that had stranded in New Zealand, more than 5,500 miles (9,000 kilometers) away. This suggested that the unique whales were more widespread than previously thought.
Top - Drawing - Adult - Male - Killer
At top is a drawing of a typical adult male killer whale. Note the size of the white eye patch, less rounded head and...
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