New, rarely seen whale spotted in Pacific This undated illustration provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southwest Fisheries Science Center shows a species of beaked whale. (Uko Gorter/Natural History Illustration/NOAA via AP/AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
New, rarely seen whale spotted in Pacific
Lexile

Genetic tests confirm that a mysterious, unnamed species of beaked whale only rarely seen alive by Japanese fishermen roams the northern Pacific Ocean. This is according to newly published research.
 
The testing shows the black whales, with bulbous heads and beaks like porpoises, are not dwarf varieties of more common Baird's beaked whales, a slate-gray animal.
 
Japanese researchers sampled three black beaked whales. They washed up on the north coast of Hokkaido, the country's most northern island, and wrote about them in a 2013 paper. The challenge to confirm the existence of the new animal was finding enough specimens from a wider area for testing and matching genetic samples. That is according to Phillip Morin, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research molecular biologist.
 
He and his team uncovered five other whales, all found in Alaska. They matched the species found in Japan.
 
"Clearly this species is very rare and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants," he said in an announcement.
 
The largest beaked whale varieties can reach 40 feet. It can spend up to 90 minutes underwater. They hunt for squid in deep water. They are hard to research because they may spend only a few minutes at the surface, Morin said by phone. They rarely breach, travel in small numbers and blend into their surroundings.
 
Japanese fishermen reported occasionally seeing a smaller, black beaked whale. They called it "karasu," the Japanese word for raven, or "kuru tsuchi," black Baird's beaked whale.
 
The Japanese researchers in 2013 were limited in declaring that they had found a new species. That is because their three samples were from one location, said Morin. He works at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Research Center in San Diego.
 
"My first idea was to go to our collection, where we have the largest collection of cetacean samples in the world," he said.
 
In a paper published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, Morin and fellow authors describe analyzing 178 beaked whale specimens from around the Pacific Rim. They found five that matched with the Japanese whales.
 
The oldest was a skull in the Smithsonian Institution. It was recovered from the Aleutians in 1948 and formerly thought to be a Baird's beaked whale. Another specimen discovered in Alaska was in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.
 
The Southwest Fisheries Science Center had tissue from a whale found floating in the Bering Sea. It also had tissue from a black beaked whale stranded on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians in 2004. Local teachers and students had photographed and measured the animal. Its skeleton was put on display at Unalaska High School.
 
The most recent was a 24-foot, adult specimen that washed up in 2014 on St. George Island, in the Bering Sea. Residents notified Michelle Ridgeway, a marine ecologist with Oceanus Alaska, who documented the animal.
 
"We knew it was not any whale we knew from our area," Ridgway said in the announcement.
 
Little is known about the range of the new species. But the St. George Island whale gives a clue. The whale had scars from cookie-cutter sharks. Those sharks live in tropical waters and bite flesh from larger creatures, like a cookie cutter out of dough.
 
Japanese researchers are in the formal process of "describing" the species, Morin said. That will include giving the whale a Latin and common name and formally defining its measurements and how it differs from other beaked whales.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How do these whales blend into their surroundings?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (6)
  • Steve0620-yyca
    8/11/2016 - 07:07 p.m.

    I think that it is great that the researchers have found a rarely seen whale. This whale might have given them hope to save them. The whale that they found has only been seen by some Japanese fishermen. The whale species is called a "karasu" by some Japanese men. The Japanese researchers are wondering how to describe the species. That will include giving the whale a Latin and common name and formally defining its measurements and how it differs from other beaked whales. I hope that the researchers will help to save the whales.
    I think that these whales blend into their surroundings because they spend few minutes on the surface of the water. They can spend up to ninety minutes under water. They are the largest beaked whale.

  • ellaj1-bla
    9/15/2016 - 08:38 a.m.

    These whales blend in with their surroundings by traveling in small numbers. This allows them to not be seen as often because if there are only a few of the whales in one spot, then they won't be as noticeable to others. The whales also can hold their breath for as long as 90 minutes. This also allows them to reach deeper depths in the ocean. When they do come up to take a breath they only spend a few minutes at the surface before diving back down deeper in the ocean. Since these whales are dark colors, they can blend in with the dark depths of the ocean.

  • shalc-wim
    9/16/2016 - 01:14 p.m.

    These whales blend into their surrounding by traveling in small or no groups, they also don't stay at the surface of the water. Traveling in small groups helps them blend in because they can easily hide and aren't as big. The dark color of their skin helps them blend into the deep water because when you look into the ocean you cannot see things that blend with the water.

  • jamariw-orv
    10/03/2016 - 02:39 p.m.

    i wish i lived in a place where weird things happen like this in my city its been a black bear loose but nothing cool like this at least not yet .

  • madelync-
    3/03/2017 - 08:39 a.m.

    These whales blend into their surrounding because they hunt for squid in deep waters, they only spend a few minutes at the surface. They rarely breach and also travel in small groups which helps them blend in with their surroundings.

  • randae-lew
    9/29/2017 - 09:32 a.m.

    The article was very informational on the species of whales. It shows how illusive and rare this species is.

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