Killer whales, or orcas, living in the North Atlantic might be on the verge of becoming two separate species! One group of orcas (type 1) found across the Northeastern Atlantic were found to have significantly worn-down teeth, which is characteristic of whales that mainly prey on fish and seals. Another group of orcas (type 2) have sharp teeth with minimal wear, meaning they mainly prey on larger marine mammals, such as small baleen whales. These type 2 orcas are found hunting off the coast of Ireland and Scotland, but are more closely related with Antarctic whales than type 1 whales. This implies that orcas around the world may be spreading out and filling in specific ecological niches, just like the finches of the Galapagos, only on a global scale.
This isn’t the only example of multiple orca subspecies. It is well known that orcas occur in three distinct groups off the coast of western North America (the fish-eating residents, the mammal-eating transients, and the mysterious offshore that may eat both fish and mammals) and although they live in the same area, they avoid each other and may not have interbred in over 10,000 years! Antarctic orcas are also found in different groups with very distinct morphological differences (pictured below, with the second link explaining the differences in diet) and dwarf groups have been sighted in this area as well.
Something to think about.. if there are many different subspecies of orca, how do we go about protecting them? There is still lots to learn.
wrong to keep them in tiny prisons:
this is how it should be for whales and orcas:
The Alaska/British Columbia Inside Passage – photos by Nina taken in August 2011:
Then, we encountered a pod of orca whales:
His Noodley Goodness makes his presence known, and we give thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the bounty and beauty of the sea.
You can just make out the whale’s exhale on these above and below images.
And then a dramatic detail from the above: