In July 1912, a whale (Beaked whales)showed up on the shores of Bird Island Shoal near North Carolina’s Shackleford Banks. It was, by all accounts, a very strange whale. Most obviously: it had a beak. It also had a thick core that tapered down, almost dolphin like, towards the tail.
A year later, in 1913, Frederick W. True, a curator at the United States National Museum (now the Smithsonian) tasked with surveying the animal’s remains would formally describe the species and give it his name. Over the intervening century, True’s beaked whale has remained something of an enigma, but a new study published today in the journal PeerJ casts some light on this cryptic animal.
It also includes the first-ever underwater video of the species, taken in the summer of 2016:
“Maybe in the past decade and decade and half they’ve been developing newer techniques to study beaked whales,” says Dee Allen a Research Program Officer with Marine Mammal Commission, who was not involved in this study. “But they have detailed information on some of the dive patterns of only like a handful of the beaked whale species.”
The handful of beaked whales doesn’t include True’s beaked whale, which, until this study, was so mystifying scientists didn’t even really know about its coloration. True’s beaked whale quickly loses its white markings after death, so it’s hard to identify a living True’s beaked whale if you’ve only seen a dead one. Studies like this one are important because they give us information that can’t be gained just from studying a dead animal.
“The person who shot the video didn’t know which beaked whale that was, that’s how we were contacted,” said Aguilar de Soto. “They sent us the video and asked what this animal was. We’re talking about a group of four animals 10 meters [32 feet] from the boat and they couldn’t recognize it.”
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