Scientists Had Never Spotted This Elusive Whale Alive — Until Now!

Oct 07, 2022by Olivia Harper - F&F

Nobody had ever actually made a confirmed sighting of a living Sato's beaked whale before…that was, until now!

Beaked Whale PodBeaked Whale Pod

Image: Tadasu Yamada

This Never-Before Seen Whale Species Has Been Spotted, And Not Just One, But 14!

For the first time, scientists have confirmed a live sighting of an elusive species: the Sato’s beaked whale. For decades, Japanese whalers have known little about a black whale that’s similar to the larger Baird’s beaked whale, a species hunted in the Pacific Ocean. But, until recently, the smaller whale was unknown to scientists.

In 2019, Japanese researchers identified the species after analysing the DNA and physical features of deceased specimens. Yet, scientists had yet to find one alive and take the genetic sample to verify it.

But now, in the rough waters between Hokkaido, Japan, and Russia’s Kuril Islands, scientists studying killer whales spotted something exciting: not one, but 14 Sato's beaked whales!

Why Has This Whale Gone Unseen For So Long?

At seven metres long, Sato’s beaked whales are around the length of a shipping container! So how did they elude scientists for this long? Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist and beaked whale expert, says that these specific whales are “the least-known large animals on the planet”, and that “It makes you wonder what all else is out there, swimming in our oceans and maybe right in front of us”.

He’s amazed that the species could remain a mystery in Japan, with its thriving community of whale researchers. Sato's beaked whales are elusive and live offshore, they rarely vocalise at the surface, and spend much of their time at great depths to avoid their main predator, killer whales. So it’s very rare to spot one, and beforehand, scientists were only aware of them from beachings.

Sato Beaked Whale SpottedSato Beaked Whale Spotted

Image: Thomas Shambler

Unlike Other Whales, The Sato’s Beak Doesn’t Have A Blow Spout!

These exceptionally rare whales are interesting animals. Stretching to 7 metres long and being super narrow in shape, they are described as “spindle-shaped” by the researchers that first named the species!

Beaked whales’ shape is partly why they went undetected for so long. Different to other whales who display their location by spouting water into the air, these whales don’t have a visible blow spout! How strange is that? This makes it tough to see their smooth heads gliding silently through the water — they are very mysterious creatures indeed.

Marine biologist Tadasu Yamada, hopes that researchers can collaborate with the public to crowdsource more data. Having a better understanding of the whales population, habits and behaviour will help guide conversation needs!

We're so happy to hear this stunning whale has been discovered and efforts to learn more about the species are taking place!

For more stories about unique wildlife discoveries around the world, check out our Eco News category and the blogs below.

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