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New Zealand is a small country entirely surrounded by water—water which features more than its share of marine life. According to whale expert Dr. Rochelle Constantine, this may go a long way to explain the fact a large mammal species were sighted for the first time, after two members of the species were being beached in New Zealand. Previously the species, Mesoplodon traversii, was only known to have existed due to bone fragments encountered by scientists.
The two whales washed up on to shore in December of 2010, and eventually died and were buried, after samples were taken from both the male and female specimen. In a University of Auckland study that was published today in Current Biology, a group of scientists determined the whales that washed ashore were of the spade-toothed beaked whale variety—a breed that scientists previously were unsure was actually a real mammal. It was only after extensive DNA tests were accomplished that the results could be fully confirmed.
The two whales are the only full specimens of the species that have ever been sighted, making the spade-toothed beaked whale the most rare whale on Earth (that scientists know of). In fact, in the almost 150 years leading to the December 2010 incident in New Zealand, the only pieces of the species found were a jawbone and teeth way back in 1872 and two jawless skulls found in the 1950s and 1980s. So, while it’s cool to know the species is not a figment of scientists' imaginations, it could be a while before anyone has a chance to study the species, again.
Photo credit @Current Biology