Scientists think they may have found a completely new whale species

Researchers hoping to make the first confirmed live sighting of one species of beaked whale off western Mexico say they have instead seen what they believe to be a completely unknown whale species.

Scientists think they may have found a completely new whale species

By Michael Daly

“We saw something new. Something that was not expected in this area, something that does not match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist,” marine mammal researcher Dr Jay Barlow said.

“It just sends chills up and down my spine when I think that we might have accomplished what most people would say was truly impossible – finding a large mammal that exists on this earth that is totally unknown to science.”

The researchers were on board the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society boat Martin Sheen, when they saw three beaked whales surfacing about 160 kilometres north of Mexico’s San Benito Islands on November 17.

They photographed and videoed the animals, and recorded their acoustic signals. Environmental genetic samples were collected and were expected to confirm the whales were a new species, Sea Shepherd said.

The researchers had been looking for Perrin’s beaked whales, which were among the 23 known species of beaked whales but for which there were no confirmed live sightings. The size of the Perrin’s population and its range were unknown.

An unidentified acoustic signal, first detected off the coast of California and then again in 2018 north of the San Benito Islands, was thought to possibly be from a Perrin’s whale, Sea Shepherd said.

The animals seen during the recent voyage were beaked whales but they were not the Perrin’s species or any other known species.

The acoustic signal emitted by the suspected new species was different to the previously recorded signal thought to be from a Perrin’s whale and was not any other sound known to science, Sea Shepherd said.

“We thought we had an expedition to find one animal but what we saw was even more amazing,” Barlow said. He is an adjunct professor of biological oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based in San Diego in the United States.

The unknown species of beaked whales seen during the voyage surfaced close to the boat. “And then they came to us; two, three times they came back to the boat. They were investigating the hydrophone that we put in the water.

“It was the most amazing encounter of beaked whales that I have ever had,” Barlow said.

Originally published at Stuff