One of the Earth’s Most Mysterious Whales is Filmed for the First Time

Beaked whales are among the most mysterious on earth, leaving scientists searching far and wide to learn more about them. Now, researchers are marveling over footage that’s been captured of one of the most elusive beaked whales of all.

Of the 22 known species, three new ones have been discovered in the past decade alone, and much of what is known about many of them has been gleaned from the bodies of whales who have been found dead. They’re record-breaking deep divers who spend the vast majority of their lives below the surface, which makes them even more difficult to find.

True’s beaked whales are so elusive, they’re rarely seen alive. There have only been only three live sightings in the North Atlantic that have been reported in peer-reviewed literature, and it’s possible that a few of those may have been misidentified.

Now, researchers are sharing the first ever footage of True’s beaked whales taken of them alive underwater, which features two adults and a calf swimming near the Azores Islands in the Atlantic.

“When I saw the video, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Natacha Aguilar de Soto, a marine biologist with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of La Laguna in the Canary Islands. “I thought, ‘My god, these are True’s beaked whales.’”

In an accompanying study, which was just published in the journal PeerJ, researchers were able to add to what little is known about these whales. For the study, which was led by Aguilar de Soto, genetic analysis was conducted from the bodies of two dead whales to confirm they were True’s beaked whales.

The footage and observations also helped identify color patterns, including those unseen on calves before. Those observations contrasted previous descriptions of True’s beaked whales, which could help others identify them more easily in the future.

They also concluded from live sightings near the Azores, and the Canary Islands, that research efforts should be focused on that area. According to the study, finding these hot spots for some beaked whales where they may reliably be found has helped add to what we know about them. Being able to locate them could also help researchers figure out if True’s beaked whales who are found in the northern and southern hemispheres are actually genetically distinct from each other.

It’s hoped that what’s learned about these whales will help support conservation efforts to protect them. Although they’re listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, they’re believed to be especially sensitive to noise pollution from activities including Navy sonar and seismic testing, and are also threatened by entanglement in fishing gear, climate change and plastic that winds up in the ocean.

Aguilar de Soto likened them to the canary in the coal mine because of their sensitivity to pressures, adding that even though they’re far away from us under the surface, “We can make the link between what we do on land and on the shores and what happens with this animal offshore.”

Photo credit: Roland Edler/PeerJ

158 comments

David Anderson
David Anderson1 years ago

Fascinating. I do have to ask how it is that there have been 3 sightings and 'a few ' of them may have been misidentified. Are you telling us that there may have been no such sightings of actual beaked whales?

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

thank you for posting

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Telica R
Telica R2 years ago

Cool & Petition signed

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Mona P
Mona Pietsch2 years ago

petition signed

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 years ago

Amazing! Now leave them alone...

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Lisa Zilli
Lisa Zilli2 years ago

Thanks

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D2 years ago

That was a beautiful video but I hope they are left alone. Human interference can be so bad. Let them live in peace as nature intended. Petition signed!

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joan s
joan silaco2 years ago

TFS

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Deborah W
Deborah W2 years ago

BY ALL MEANS NARROW THE THE SEARCH AREA so others can seek them out. Personal preference would be to leave them alone, to exist as nature intended. Seems that as soon as humans get involved "for research and educational purposes" things usually go bad for the subjects involved. Why is this important for the masses to know, change their life in any way? These days few, if any, have time for other than necessities. Might drudge up some research funding though ...

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ERIKA S
ERIKA SOMLAI2 years ago

thank you....beautiful

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