Beached whales were world's rarest
Tue, 06 Nov 2012 9:07a.m.
By Dan Satherley
Two whales that beached in the Bay of Plenty on New Year's Eve, 2010, were members of the world's rarest whale species, scientists have discovered.
At the time they were misidentified as the relatively common Gray’s beaked whales, but DNA evidence has proved they were in fact seldom-seen spade-toothed beaked whales.
They are so rare, until then no one had ever knowingly seen one.
"It’s incredible to think that, until recently, such a large animal was concealed in the south Pacific Ocean and shows how little we know about ocean biodiversity," says lead scientist Rochelle Constantine.
The spade-toothed beaked whale, known to scientists as Mesoplodon traversii, was first spotted on Pitt Island in the Chathams in 1872. No one realised it was a completely new species however until 2002, when skull and jaw fragments recovered from museum archives were analysed and found to be of a unique species.
However, no one knew if the spade-toothed beaked whale still existed now.
On December 31, 2010, a 5.3m long mother and her 3.5m calf stranded and died on Opape Beach in the Bay of Plenty. It was assumed at first they were Gray’s beaked whales, which look very similar to the spade-toothed beaked whale, but are the most common whale to beach in New Zealand.
The Department of Conservation took tissue samples from the unlucky pair, and genetic analysis at the University of Auckland showed they were of the same rare species as the archived skull and jaw fragments.
"In New Zealand we have a very well established network whereby members of the public report stranded marine mammals to the Department of Conservation, which collects information and sends tissue samples to our laboratory at The University of Auckland," says Dr Constantine.
With the permission of Whakatohea Iwi Maori Trust and the Ngai Tama Haua hapu the whales' skeletal remains were exhumed for further study.
"This is the first time a spade-toothed beaked whale has been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them," says Dr Constantine.
"This is a real New Zealand story – it’s all linked here, from the discovery of two of the bone fragments to the identification of the species and now the first sighting of the whales."
She says it's not known why the whales have proved to be so elusive. The skull and jaw fragments analysed in 2002 were discovered in the 1950s, and the only other specimen known to exist is part of a skull found in Chile in 1986.
"It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore. New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us."
Dr Constantine's research has been published in the latest issue of Current Biology.
Post a Comment
Before commenting, please take the time to read our moderation guide
(Won't be published)
14/11/2012 9:26:12 a.m.
6/11/2012 4:29:49 p.m.
"Its time to get American & British technology out of NZ" - So basically get rid of all technology here, so you would be left living in a mud hut, with no electricity.........Good Luck with that.
6/11/2012 12:34:30 p.m.
Its time to get American & British technology out of NZ that is constantly destroying the natural instincts of marine life's ability to survive in their own habitat.
Lets not forget that technology is doing the same to humans on the Land also.
A woman in the United States did a double take when she discovered her cat had given birth to a two-faced kitten.
Auckland Airport has just wrapped up its first ever black swan cull.
A major clean-up is underway at a salmon farm in Golden Bay that bore the brunt of another landslide.
The Ministry of Fisheries will begin assessing possible changes to snapper regulations next month.
Professional bee-keepers are worried about a Christchurch city councillor's plans to have beehives dotted around the city.
Copyright © 2013 MediaWorks TV. All Rights Reserved.