Skeleton Hanging In Alaskan School Gym May Belong To An Undescribed Species Of Whale

The skeleton has been on display since 2004, when the carcass washed up on the island of Unalaska. Unalaska City School District/NOAA
Josh Davis 27 Jul 2016, 19:57

It turns out that Japanese whalers have noted for quite a while that there were seemingly two forms of the Baird’s beaked whale, one larger grey variety and a smaller black kind, which the sailors referred to as “karasu”, or raven. They had presumed that due to its scarcity and similarities with the larger whale, the karasu was just an odd variant and there was nothing more to it. But it now seems that they may have been catching the new species this whole time.

Genetic analysis of the two types show that they are actually quite distinct, with both being more closely related to a third whale in the Berardius genus, Arnoux’s beaked whale, that is limited to the Antarctic waters of the South Pacific. This, coupled with the distinct morphological characteristics of being smaller in size and darker in color, provide a good argument that we are indeed looking at a totally new species, even though it is yet to be formally described or named.

With so little of the vast oceans fully explored, coupled with the illusive nature of the whales, it is not wholly surprising that a new species could have been lurking unseen. Due to their extreme diving habits, deep-sea lifestyle, and seemingly low abundance, the beaked whales are actually one of the least known groups of mammals, with quite a few species having been described within the last few decades. Currently, there are 22 described species, but only four of these have ever been studied in detail – including Baird’s – and that has often only been through commercial hunting.  

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