U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Mammalogy (2007) 88(1):43–48.


In the early 1980s, 2 groups of Soviet scientists independently described 1, possibly 2 new dwarf species of killer whales (Orcinus) from Antarctica. We used aerial photogrammetry to determine total length (TL) of 221 individual Type C killer whales—a fish-eating ecotype that inhabits dense pack ice—in the southern Ross Sea in January 2005. We confirmed it as one of the smallest killer whales known: TL of adult females (with calves) averaged 5.2 m ± 0.23 SD (n = 33); adult males averaged 5.6 ± 0.32 m (n = 65), with the largest measuring 6.1 m. Female Type A killer whales—offshore mammal-eaters—from Soviet whaling data in the Southern Ocean were approximately 1–2 m longer, and males were 2–3 m (up to 50%) longer (maximum length 9.2 m). Killer whale communities from the North Atlantic and in waters around Japan also appear to support both a smaller, inshore, fish-eating form and a larger, offshore, mammal-eating form. We suggest that, at least in Antarctica, this degree of size dimorphism could result in reproductive isolation between sympatric ecotypes, which is consistent with hypotheses of multiple species of killer whales in the Southern Ocean.