A B.C. researcher is part of a team that believes it may have discovered a new species of orca.

Jared Towers, a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada who works out of Nanaimo and Alert Bay, is part of an international team that set out in January to search for the elusive whales off Cape Horn, Chile.

Dubbed the Type D killer whale, the species previously existed only in tourist photographs and fishing stories dating back 60 years, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which spearheaded the expedition.

After eight days at anchor, the team got lucky and had a three-hour encounter with a pod of approximately 30 Type D whales.

The whales differ from the orcas most British Columbians are familiar with. They are markedly smaller, have blunt and rounded heads and white eyepatches that are smaller than those of their resident B.C. cousins.

The team collected genetic samples from the whales that they hope will determine whether the animal, with its distinct shape and colour pattern, is in fact a new species.

“We are very excited about the genetic analyses to come,” said researcher Bob Pitman of the NOAA, on the organization’s website. “Type D killer whales could be the largest undescribed animal left on the planet and a clear indication of how little we know about life in our oceans.

On Thursday, Fisheries and Oceans Canada tweeted a brief video from the expedition, congratulating Towers on the find: