Scientists across the world got their proof that the spade-toothed beaked whale is real in a not so pleasant way. The world’s rarest whale was found beached in New Zealand proving the species actually exists.
You’d imagine that by 2012, scientists have managed to explore everything there is to Earth. With all the technology and intense traffic, you’d imagine there isn’t one animal left on Earth hiding from scientists. But the spade-toothed beaked whale managed to keep out of sight, becoming so elusive nobody believed it still existed. Until two were found on a beach in New Zealand.
In 2010, two whales beached themselves. It was a 17-foot whale and her calf that were misidentified by conservation workers to be a common type of whale. The carcasses were buried, but scientists from New Zealand and the United States took a second look at the findings and concluded that the beached whales from two years ago were in fact spade-toothed beaked whales.
“For the first time we have a description of the world’s rarest and perhaps most enigmatic marine mammal” researchers write in their paper published in journal Current Biology this week. “When these specimens came to our lab, we extracted the DNA as we usually do for samples like these, and we were surprised to find that they were spade-toothed beaked whales” said Rochelle Constantine with the University of Auckland.
Scientists have never actually seen a beaked whale alive. They had only three partial skulls collected from New Zealand in Chile in 1872, 1950 and 1986. In 2010, when the two whales were found in New Zealand, was for the first time when scientists had the chance to see a full body and see a spade-toothed whale for the first time in almost 150 years.
Spade-toothed beaked whales were not considered extinct. But at the same time, scientists were baffled that no one had ever seen one alive, in its environment.
Beaked whales dive to incredible depths for food and that might be one of the reasons why these are the world’s rarest whales. “We’re not sure why they are so rarely seen” said Kristine Thompson from the Auckland University. “It may be that they live in deep oceanic waters away from land so we don’t see them when they die, or it may be that there are very few of them. The answer remains an unknown” she told Discover Magazine.