06 Nov 2012:
World’s Rarest Whale Species
Identified After New Zealand Beaching
Scientists have confirmed that two whales that washed onto the New Zealand coast two years ago were spade-toothed beaked whales, an enigmatic species so rare that no human is known to have ever seen one alive
. Writing in the journal Current Biology
, New Zealand and U.S. researchers provide the first
full description of the species, which previously was known only from three skull fragments recovered over a 140-year span, the most recent of which was found 26 years ago. When conservation workers initially found the adult whale and her 11-foot male calf on a New Zealand beach in December 2010, they thought they were Gray’s beaked whales, a far more common species. But DNA tests of tissue samples collected from the animals revealed that they were actually spade-toothed beaked whales
), a species whose males have blade-like tusk teeth. Researchers later exhumed the whales to conduct additional tests. The scientists say they don’t know why the whales are so elusive. “It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore,” said Rochelle Constantine, a researcher at the University of Auckland and co-author of the study. “New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us.”
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