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New Species of Whale Identified

In the vastness of the sea it’s no wonder that new species are being discovered. Two species of beaked Berardius (Baradius bairdi) whales, Baird’s and Arnoux’s exist. A third species, yet unnamed, has just been identified.

In 2013, three whales washed up dead on the shores of the northern tip of Hokkaido in Japan. They were considered unique by whalers who ply the chilled waters of the North Pacific. For one, they were smaller than other beaked whales (beaked whales are the largest in the area) and a darker hue. The locals called this new whale “karasu,” “crow” or “raven” because of its dark color.

Beak Toothed Whale

Beak Toothed Whale

Beaked whales are so named because of their very long and prominent beak with a lower jaw that is longer than the upper jaw. This underbite causes the front teeth to be visible even when the jaw is closed.

The whales are known for being elusive. They spend most of their time in small groups far from shore and at depths of 3,000 meters below sea level. They feed on bottom-dwelling fish and giant squid.

Phillip Morin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead researcher says,

They are very infrequently seen and they don’t wash up on beaches often. If they do die they are far away from shore and decompose and sink.

An international team of researchers took DNA samples from the beached whales and compared them to samples taken from museum collections and other stranding events. They identified 178. Two of the tissue samples matched that of the two beached whales.

A skeleton of the new species was discovered by chance in a museum.

A skeleton of the new species was discovered by chance in a museum.

Morin says,

I was curious (to see) if we could find other specimens outside of Japan. (Samples) ranged all the way from far western North Pacific in Russia to Mexico.
Beyond that we don’t really know where they range. We still know so little about cetaceans anywhere away from our coast as they are hard to observe and study.

Now that we know it exists and know a little a bit about it, we can start looking more intensively. There’s a lot of curiosity in seeing new species.

Hopefully, we’ll start documenting them live in the wild, which will help us know where we can find them.

These beached whales were indeed a new species of beaked whale. The researchers informally called it the “black form.” The researchers also found the new species to be suffering from the bites of cookie-cutter sharks, proving that this species travel away from the Pacific Ocean to the tropical waters where the sharks live.

Erich Hoyt, research fellow at Whale and Dolphin Conservation in the UK, says,

In our study in Kamchatka and especially Bering Island, we’re finding that (whales) are highly social with long-term relationships between individuals. As we learn more and more about them, it becomes even less acceptable to be hunting them in the 21st century.

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