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Researchers from the College of British Columbia say they’ve recognized a doubtlessly new inhabitants of open-ocean orcas, that hunt the largest predators on the planet.

In a study published Friday, researchers mentioned a bunch of 49 orcas has been noticed looking sperm whales off the coast of California and Oregon.

Lead creator Josh McInnes mentioned in a information launch that in a single case the orcas had been seen looking a herd of 9 grownup sperm whales, “ultimately making off with one.”

McInnes mentioned it’s the primary time killer whales have been reported to assault sperm whales on the West Coast.

“Different encounters embrace an assault on a Pygmy sperm whale, predation on a northern elephant seal and Risso’s dolphin, and what gave the impression to be a post-meal lull after scavenging a leatherback turtle,” mentioned McInnes, who’s a masters scholar within the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Researchers mentioned the orcas that had been noticed in 9 encounters from 1997 to 2021 may both belong to a subpopulation of transient killer whales or a novel oceanic inhabitants.

The report mentioned researchers had been in a position to establish the orcas as presumably a brand new group partially due to chunk scars on their our bodies from the cookiecutter shark, a species of parasitic sharks that lives within the deep ocean.

McInnes mentioned virtually all the orcas had the scars, whereas they haven’t been seen on different killer whales.

“However the large query is, the place do these killer whales form of slot in? We don’t know … however what we do know is that they characterize a inhabitants that appears to spend extra time within the open ocean,” McInnes mentioned in an interview.

Co-author Andrew Trites from the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries mentioned it’s “fairly distinctive” to discover a new inhabitants of killer whales given the time wanted to assemble photographs and acknowledge the animals as completely different than recognized populations.

Researchers mentioned additionally they noticed bodily variations within the killer whales corresponding to patches on their fins and saddle.

They mentioned they hope to doc extra sightings and knowledge from the brand new inhabitants with a view to examine precisely how completely different these orcas are from different documented populations.

McInnes mentioned the invention is the primary a part of a enjoyable puzzle that they’re engaged on.

“We’re simply form of on the tip of the iceberg of what these whales are doing. I imply, are all of them one inhabitants? Are they a number of? We don’t know. So, I really feel like that is form of the massive begin of the following steps in our analysis, and to possibly get extra sightings and extra data,” mentioned McInnes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed March 15, 2024.

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