Whales alive: beaked species spotted for first time by Chinese scientists

January 24, 2021
Nature
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Image Source: https://www.scmp.com/

Chinese scientists

have reported the world’s first sightings alive of a little-known species of whale while working in the South China Sea.

A deep-sea team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) spotted three beaked whales during an offshore research trip last year, the CAS has revealed. The team from the Institute of Deep‐Sea Science and Engineering (IDSSE) initially identified them as either Deraniyagala’s beaked whales or ginkgo-toothed beaked whales.

Beaked whales of either kind have never been spotted alive before. Understanding of the two species has been based on the few dead, stranded whales that have been found previously.

The colour and scar patterns and water surface behaviour of the mysterious beaked whales have been described for the first time in a paper published this month in the journal Integrative Zoology and reported by Chinese state media on Monday.

Two of those seen by the researchers, in the northern part of the South China Sea, were captured in high-definition photographs, but the high similarity between the two species makes it difficult to tell which they were. The three were similar in size, estimated by sight to be 4.5-5 metres (14.7-16.4 feet) long.

Two were separated by less than one body length, while the third was four to five body lengths away. The trio showed synchronous behaviour, and made three consecutive shallow dives before disappearing into deeper waters.

Beaked whales account for a quarter of the known existing whale species, and are the least known of all marine mammals. They live and forage mainly in deep-sea waters, according to the IDSSE.

The institute said further research could include exploring whether dents observed in the whales’ lip lines exist normally or were caused by fishing gear or

plastic litter

, of which there is a large volume in the South China Sea.

Story Source: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3115880/whales-alive-beaked-species-spotted-first-time-chinese

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