World's rarest whale seen for first time in New Zealand

Rarest whale: Two spade-toothed beaked whales, a mother and calf, were stranded on a beach in New Zealand. This is the first time this species of whale has ever been seen as a complete specimen.

By , Our Amazing Planet

  • close
    A spade-toothed beaked whale was found on a New Zealand beach in December 2010. Only recently, through DNA analysis was it identified.
    View Caption

The world's rarest whale has been spotted for the first time, in New Zealand, where two of the whales stranded themselves.

The two spade-toothed beaked whales, a mother and calf, stranded and died on Opape Beach on the North Island of New Zealand, in December 2010. The mother was 17 feet (5.3 meters) long and the calf was 11 feet (3.5 m) long.

A report describing the whales and the analysis of their DNA appears in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Current Biology.

Recommended: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz

RECOMMENDED: Are you scientifically literate? Take the quiz

"Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period. It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal," Rochelle Constantine, a marine biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in a statement. "This is the first time this species has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them."

At first, the animals were thought to be much more common Gray's beaked whales. Their identity came to light following routine DNA analysis, which was done as part of a 20-year program to collect data on beaked whale species in New Zealand waters. New Zealand is a known hotspot for whale stranding, and it has the highest rates and greatest diversities of stranded whale species in the world, the researchers report.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation photographed the animals and collected tissue samples.

"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."

The researchers said they have no idea why the whales have remained 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[es] ashore," Constantine said.

Because the spade-toothed beaked whale has never been seen alive, nothing is known about its behavior.

RECOMMENDED: Are you scientifically literate? Take the quiz

Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Share this story:
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...