A TEAM of New Zealand scientists have confirmed that a female whale and its baby which stranded on an east coast beach were spade-toothed beaked whales – the world’s rarest of the species.
The study’s findings, published on Tuesday in Current Biology, mean the two whales, of which the largest was five metres, were the only whole spade-toothed beaked whales ever found in the world.
Just three spade-toothed beaked whale bone fragments have been found in the Chatham Islands and off the coast of Chile since 1872, but it has never been known what the whale looked liked.
“The spade-toothed whale is the most rare because we really only have these four records,” researcher and scientist at the University of Auckland Kirsten Thompson told AAP.
“It was really exciting to see the first photographs of such an animal and we were really curious about this five-metre long mammal that took so long to figure out what it looked like.”
The female and baby became stranded on Opape Beach on the east coast in 2010 and later died.
It was originally believed the pair were gray’s beaked whales.
However, tests carried out by the group of University of Auckland scientists, who compared samples taken by Department of Conservation staff from the female and baby with the bone fragment samples, revealed they were spade-toothed beaked whales.
Before this study scientists were unsure whether the species sill existed.
Lead scientist Rochelle Constantine said the discovery shows how little scientists know about ocean biodiversity.
She said the discovery demonstrates the value of archival collections and the power of DNA as a forensic tool.
The whales have a white belly with dark flippers and its beak is much darker than gray’s beaked whales.
Although scientists know every little about the species, including their population, it is believed they live in deep water, a likely reason why they have never been spotted by humans.