Field researchers discover new species all the time, but usually, they’re tiny spiders or beetles or some peculiar frogs. This time, however, a new paper revealed the amazing discovery of a species of beaked whale that was previously unrecorded.
If you’re wondering how researchers could have missed a species the size of a whale, the answer is fairly simple. This kind of beaked whale lives in the deep waters of the North Pacific Ocean, which makes it very difficult to spot.
The scientific breakthrough was made based on the assessment of a beached whale carcass discovered in 2014 on St. George Island in the Pribilofs. Karin Holser, a teacher in the area, was the first to see the carcass and alert the authorities concerned about it.
Michelle Ridgway, a biologist and a partner with a Pribilof science camp, was the first responder at the site. According to Phillip Morin, a research molecular biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the specimen was around almost as big as Baird’s beaked whale.
The carcass seemed to belong to a seasoned whale with worn and yellow teeth, belonging to a species that grows to be 35 or 40 feet. Due to the distinct slope, the different dorsal fins, and the darker coloration, the researchers concluded the carcass was not Baird’s beaked whale.
For further clarity, Morin sent tissues samples to the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division of NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, California. Meanwhile, the whale’s giant skull was shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
The results of the DNA tests revealed the fact that it was a new species, differing from the already known 22 species of beaked whales across the globe. The newly identified species still awaits its official name.
While researchers know very little else about it, they suppose the species lives off the continental shelf. Following the discovery, the NOAA lab tested the 178 beaked whale tissue samples they had and eight of them matched the new species.
“The challenge in documenting the species was simply locating enough specimens to provide convincing evidence,” explained Morin.