Multiple whale carcasses that washed up on desolate Alaskan beaches, as well as a skeleton hanging in a high school gym, belong to a new species of whale, confirmed scientists.
A new species belonging to the beaked whale family has been confirmed after studying a dead whale that washed up on Alaska’s St. George Island in June 2014. The new variant surprisingly had a skeleton hanging from the ceiling in a high school gymnasium in the Aleutian Islands but went unnoticed until recently. Biologists have been able to identify and confirm it was indeed a new species after the results of a DNA test came in.
For quite a few decades, fishermen have described a dark, rare beaked whale. The locals called it “Karasu,” which, loosely translated, means the “raven” for the color of its skin. Unfortunately, to date, not a single creature that fit the description was spotted or captured alive, relegating the stories folklore. However, recently conducted genetic tests have confirmed the existence of that mysterious species of beaked whale, which was only rarely seen alive by Japanese fishermen. The whale is native to the northern Pacific Ocean, notes research published this week Marine Mammal Science.
The newly discovered species is certainly unique. These black whales feature a bulbous heads and beaks like porpoises. The scientific community assumed what the fishermen saw was a dwarf variety of more common Baird’s beaked whales, a slate-gray animal.
However, after Japanese researchers sampled three black beaked whales that washed up on the north coast of Hokkaido, the country’s most northern island in 2013, biologists started taking keen interest. The challenge to confirm the existence of the new animal was finding enough specimens from a wider area for testing and matching genetic samples, said Phillip Morin, a molecular geneticist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, reported Fox News.
The researchers had another carcass to study in 2014. The dead whale that washed ashore in the Pribilof Islands community of St. George, a tiny oasis of rock and grass in the middle of Alaska’s Bering Sea, was 24 feet (7.3 meters) long and matched the description, reported National Geographic. After studying the remains, it became clear they belonged to an entirely new species, noted Morin.
“It’s just so exciting to think that in 2016 we’re still discovering things in our world—even mammals that are more than 20 feet long. “
“We don’t know how many there are, where they’re typically found, anything. But we’re going to start looking. 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.”
Beaked whales are mysterious creatures, and they are notoriously difficult to study, primarily because they spend extended amounts of time in deep water. According to studies, the mammals can reach up to 40 feet in length. After spending close to 90 minutes hunting for squid in the depths of the ocean, these whales surface only for a few minutes to replenish their oxygen supply. Unlike other whales, these creatures travel in small numbers and have the remarkable ability of blending themselves perfectly into their surroundings, shared Morin.
Out of 178 beaked whale specimens from around the Pacific Rim, Morin and his team only found five that matched the description given by Japanese fishermen. Interestingly, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center had handed over a complete skeleton of the creature to Unalaska High School in 2004. It currently hangs in the school’s gymnasium.
It is truly a pity that scientists haven’t been able to spot these species alive. Hence, they had to rely on DNA testing to confirm its existence, reported NPR.
[Photo by Jens Kuhfs/Getty Images]