Did you know that beaked whales are a thing, and that they’re more than just giant, weird-looking dolphin clones?
On Tuesday, a team of scientists announced the discovery of a brand new species of beaked whale. The findings, published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, detail the lengthy process of finding and identifying samples from 178 beaked whales in and around the Pacific Rim. Previously, there were only two known species belonging to the genus Berardius – Baird’s and Arnoux’s beaked whales — but these new findings indicate there’s another species hanging out in the North Pacific.
“It’s a really big deal,” study co-author and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association research biologist Paul Wade told National Geographic. “If you think about it, on land, discovery of new species of large mammals is exceptionally rare. It just doesn’t happen very often. It’s quite remarkable.”
In 2004, a dead whale washed up on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. It turned out to be a member of the new species. (Image: Don Graves/NOAA)
Of the 178 beaked whale specimens the researchers studied, eight were found to belong to the new species. They popped up in some unexpected places — one was a skeleton chilling at a high school in Alaska, and another washed up on the shore of St. George Island in the Bering Sea — but when scientists compared the results, they discovered that the eight samples weren’t Baird’s or Arnoux’s beaked whales.
The researchers still don’t know much about the new species. “We don’t know how many there are, where they’re typically found, anything,” co-author and NOAA molecular geneticist Philip Morin told National Geographic. “But we’re going to start looking.”
On the whole, however, beaked whales are fairly mysterious; according to NOAA, they’re “among the least known whales in the ocean, with several species identified only in the past few decades”. Their beaks resemble those of dolphins, and they spend a lot of their time feeding and swimming a ways from the shoreline, hence the lack of contact with scientists.
The study notes that the new species has yet to be named. May we suggest Whaley McWhaleface? [National Geographic]