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Mysterious New Whale Species Discovered in Alaska

December 22, 2016

Mysterious New Whale Species Discovered in Alaska

Certainly peaks one's curiosity. As scientists unravel more data, we could we only hope we will be seeing more of these beautiful creatures in our oceans.

By Craig Welch National Geographic

Scientists say a dead whale on a desolate beach and a skeleton hanging in a high school gym are a new species. Yet experts have never seen one alive.

Like many good mysteries, this one started with a corpse, but the body in question was 24 feet (7.3 meters) long.

The remains floated ashore in June of 2014, in the Pribilof Islands community of St. George, a tiny oasis of rock and grass in the middle of Alaska's Bering Sea. A young biology teacher spotted the carcass half-buried in sand on a desolate windswept beach. He alerted a former fur seal researcher who presumed, at first, that she knew what they'd found: a Baird's beaked whale, a large, gray, deep-diving creature that occasionally washes in dead with the tide.

But a closer examination later showed that the flesh was too dark, the dorsal fin too big and floppy. The animal was too short to be an adult, but its teeth were worn and yellowed with age.

 

This whale washed up dead on Alaska's St. George Island in June 2014. Scientists say it is a newly discovered species of beaked whale. PHOTOGRAPH BY KARIN HOLSER

It turns out, according to new research published Tuesday, that this was not a Baird's beaked whale at all, but an entirely new species—a smaller, odd-shaped black cetacean that Japanese fishermen have long called karasu, or raven.

"We don't know how many there are, where they're typically found, anything," says Phillip Morin, a molecular geneticist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center. "But we're going to start looking."

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