World’s Rarest Whale Seen for First Time

Spade-toothed beaked whales were first discovered in 1872 when bone fragments of the then-unknown species were found on a remote Pacific island, but until now the animals themselves have remained entirely hidden from human view.

In the 140 years since they were first discovered, the only sign of the creatures’ continued existence lay in two partial skulls found in New Zealand in the 1950s and Chile in 1986.

Now scientists have reported a complete description of the whales, which are thought to spend most of their lives in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, only rarely coming to the surface.

The mother and her male calf were stranded and died on Opape Beach at the northern tip of New Zealand in December 2010 but were initially thought to be of a much more common species known as Gray’s beaked whales.

It was only after routine DNA analysis that experts realized their true identity. They published their findings this week.

Dr. Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland said: “This is the first time this species — a whale over five meters in length — has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them.”

“Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period. It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal.”

Because the animals had never been seen very little is known about their behavior, but writing in the Current Biology journal, the researchers suggested they were likely to be “exceptionally deep divers, foraging for squid and small fish and spending little time at the surface.”

Dr. Constantine said it was unclear why the species has been so elusive, but added: “It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore. New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us.”

Courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

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