Researchers Identify a New Species of Beaked Whale


Scientists are constantly discovering new species of sea life, but rarely do they come across something the size of a whale. According to National Oceanic And Atmospheric Association (NOAA), a team of researchers has identified a new species of beaked whale native to the Pacific Ocean.

The scientists detailed their discovery in a recent paper in Marine Mammal Science [PDF]. After analyzing DNA from 178 beaked whale specimens around the Pacific Rim, they found eight that matched the new species. The whale has yet to be seen alive by experts: The specimens researchers used to identify it included a skeleton on a display at an Alaska high school (below), meat from a Japanese fish market, and a rotting carcass that washed up on an Alaskan island.

In the past, most remains recovered from the mysterious species had been attributed to the Baird’s beaked whale. Like the Baird’s whale, the new species has a dolphin-like snout and can reach great depths while diving. The most dramatic difference is size. Baird’s whales can grow up to 42 feet, while the new species appears to top out at 25 feet. Baird’s whales are also lighter in color. The unnamed whale species’s black hue earned it the nickname karasu or “raven” among Japanese whalers.

Baird's beaked whale. Image credit: Junko Kimura / Getty

Of all the whales that inhabit the ocean, beaked whales are some of the most mysterious. Choosing a name for this new species will be the easy part for scientists. After that, the focus will be on conservation. As study co-author Erich Hoyt told NOAA, “Discovering a new species of whale in 2016 is exciting but it also reveals how little we know and how much more work we have to do to truly understand these species.”

[h/t NOAA]

Header/banner images: Don Graves/NOAA via Twitter

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