(Nov. 5, 2012) .
The spade-toothed beaked whale is so rare that nobody has seen one alive, but scientists have proof that the species still exists. The discovery is the first evidence that the world’s rarest whale species - the spade-toothed beaked whale is revealing that it still exists and it reminds of how large the oceans are, and of how little we know about them, the researchers say. A whale that is almost unknown to science, previously only known from a few bones, was seen for the first time after two individuals -- a mother and her male calf -- were stranded and died on a New Zealand beach. A report in the November 6th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, offers the first complete description of the spade-toothed beaked whale. The bad news is that the sighting was of a mother and her male calf, both of which became stranded and died on the beach.
|When two of the exceedingly rare spade-toothed whales |
washed up on a New Zealand shore, they were initially mistaken
for the more common Gray's beaked whales (pictured here).
(Credit: Copyright: New Zealand Government)
"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," says Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland. The researchers say they really have no idea why the whales have remained so elusive.
"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," Constantine said. "We ran the samples a few times to make sure before we told everyone."
"It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore," Constantine says. "New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us."