Sunday, November 11, 2012

Alive - But Dead

The good news: they're not extinct.
The bad news: two extremely rare Spade-toothed beaked whales, a 5.5m mother and her 4m calf, beached themselves and died in New Zealand in 2010...only now have the two skeletons been identified as belonging to this species.
Though discovered in 1872, no one had ever seen it alive. Scientifically known as Mesoplodon traversii, it was named after Henry Travers, a NZ naturalist who collected a partial jawbone found on Pitt Island in 1872. Since then, a damaged skull found on White Island in the 1950s and another found on Robinson Crusoe Island off the Coast of Chile in 1986 are the only evidence of the species. It's hard to believe this is the first time an entire whale has been seen, considering it's over 5m long!
The reason so little is known about these whales is that they're thought to live deep in the Pacific Ocean and come up to breathe infrequently. Rochelle Constantine from the University of Auckland: "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." Scientists hope the discovery will provide insights into the species and into ocean ecosystems.
The two whales were discovered on the North Island's Opape Beach near Opotiki, on New Year's Eve 2010, but they were mistaken for the more common Gray's beaked whales. It was only after DNA analysis that their true identity was revealed. Perhaps this pair will teach scientists more about the elusive Spade-toothed beaked whales. Luckily their size makes them uneconomic for the Japanese to "research" them...

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