The world’s rarest whale was seen for the first time two years ago, and a report including the first-ever description of the animal was just released.
The spade-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon traversii) has only ever been studied from bones, but in December 2010, a mother and her male calf were stranded on Opape Beach in New Zealand. The whales were found alive but died soon after. While their deaths were unfortunate, they provided a lot of brand new information for science.
“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,” said Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland. “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.”
The whale was first identified as Gray’s beaked whale, similar in looks and much more common than the spade-toothed beaked whale. The correction came after a DNA analysis.
“When these specimens came to our lab, we extracted the DNA as we usually do for samples like these, and we were very surprised to find that they were spade-toothed beaked whales,” said Constantine. “We ran the samples a few times to make sure before we told everyone.”
The researchers do not know why we don’t see these whales more often, and they included that this report serves as a good reminder of just how little we really know about marine life.
To learn more:
- Read the full report, published in the journal Current Biology, here: The World’s Rarest Whale
- Check out this article, with pictures, from Scientific American: World’s rarest whale seen for first time: Spade-toothed whale
- See images of the previously studied spade-toothed beaked whale skulls from Smithsonian.
Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.