Researchers find new species of whale off the coast of Mexico

December 27, 2020
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Researchers who were looking for a rare whale instead came across what they believe to be a new species of beaked whale, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) reported on Wednesday.

The researchers didn’t realize at first what they had found when they encountered a group of whales on November 17, just off the remote Mexican San Benito islands.

The scientific team had been sailing with the Sea Shepherd Conservation society in pursuit of the Perrin’s beaked whale — so elusive that they have only been observed when dead specimens show up on beaches.

What they discovered was a type of beaked whale, a species smaller than other whales at up to five meters long and with pointy, dolphin-like snouts.

After the encounter, the scientists noticed that the animals in the images they had captured had slightly different teeth placement and their underwater recordings were quite unique.

Dr. Jay Barlow, a senior fisheries scientist at the NOAA, was confident that they were not Perrin’s beaked whales but a new species.

“We saw something new. Something that was not expected in this area, something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist,” he said.

‘The joy of science’

“The fact that they were looking for a very rare whale, and that they happen to find something completely different, is remarkable and wonderful, and just the joy of doing science,” marine biologist Andrew Read said.

The team took samples from the water in the area where the whales had been spotted hoping to get an “environmental DNA sample from their sloughed skin cells.” Such a sample would open up opportunities to analyze their find in the lab.

While DNA testing is necessary for a conclusive answer, Read said that the team’s findings were in line with the discovery of a new species.

If confirmed, the new species would bring the total number of known beaker whales to 24.

“It is a huge animal, the weight of a Clydesdale horse. Imagine something that big in the terrestrial realm going undiscovered. But there’s a lot of mysteries in the sea,” Barlow said.

Researchers are already planning a new trip next year, although now with the aim of finding both the new species as well as the elusive Perrin’s beaked whale.

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