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Types of Killer Whales – 7th Feb 2010

Jerome Poncet

Jerome Poncet at the wheel of the "Golden Fleece" © Doug Anderson

So we sail on the beautiful “Golden Fleece” once more from the Falkland Islands to the cold south. A very similar crew to last years killer whale killing season save the substitution of cameraman Tom Fitz for Doug Allan and Producer Liz White for Kathryn Jeffs. We are going for Killer whales again but not the pack-Ice Type B’s of last year. Type B’s? I should explain. There are 4 “Types” of Killer whales in the Antarctic. They are called Type A,B,C and D. Each Type looks quite different to the next and they all seem to live in very different ways. A’s look like your classic black and white Killer whale. We find them mainly offshore (away from land and ice) and they seem to kill baleen whales – probably mostly antarctic Minke whales. Type B’s are what we filmed last year. They are brown and white with a big eyepatch and are heavily associated with the pack-ice. They seem to kill mainly seals (sometimes by wave-washing). Type C’s are small fish eating Killer whales only found in the Ross-sea. Type D’s are rarely seen. They live well offshore and have a tiny eyepatch (it’s almost gone). On this trip we are looking for mainly A’s and B’s. But we don’t need anymore wave washing behaviour. Last year we found hundreds (about 350) type B killer whales, and a few type A’s, miles north of the pack ice in the straits around the islands near the top of the Antarctic peninsula. They must be feeding on something. We suspect they are using the straits to pick off Minke whales and possibly elephant seals as they migrate south.  The straits act like a kind of funnel for animals as they travel south. I’m not sure if it happens here but certainly in other parts of the world Killer whales use straits and passages as ambush points. So we have a plan. Stay north and see what they are all killing. If they kill, film it and hope it makes a piece of television. So simple, should be easy …….right?