Unidentified beaked whales raise hopes of an entirely new species
Led by the sounds of mysterious acoustic signals off the coast of Mexico, a group of beaked whale experts believe they have captured evidence of an entirely new species. The scientists were able to spot three unidentified beaked whales breach the surface near the remote San Benito Islands, with the sightings sending chills up their spines as they ponder the existence of a completely unknown large mammal.
The discovery can be traced back to the detection of an unknown acoustic signal known as BW43, which had previously been picked up off the coast of California and was again detected in the waters north of the San Benito Islands in 2018. Whales, dolphins and porpoises all send acoustic signals out through the water, with each of them unique to the different species which helps scientists understand which ones inhabit which parts of the ocean.
But BW43 was not one that could be tied to any known species, which raised the prospect of an entirely new one. So a group of beaked whale experts from the Marine Mammal Research Group of CONANP, the Whale Acoustic Reconnaissance Program and Sea Shepherd set out on an expedition to see what they could find.
Around 100 miles (160 km) north of the San Benito Islands on November 17, the group saw three beaked whales break through the surface of the water. The scientists were also able to capture photos and video of the animals, and use underwater microphones to record their unique acoustic signals.
This array of evidence has the group "highly confident" that they've indeed discovered an entirely new whale species. Initial analysis of the acoustic signal suggests that it doesn't match with any other known species but genetic analysis is currently underway, which the team expects to conclusively confirm the new species.
“We saw something new," says Dr. Jay Barlow from the Whale Acoustic Reconnaissance Program. "Something that was not expected in this area, something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist. 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."
While whales are generally large animals and you'd therefore think they might be easy to spot, this isn't the first time a new species has been discovered recently. In 2019, scientists discovered a new beaked whale species off the coast of Japan, where there are rumors of other unidentified whale species roaming the waters.
You can hear from those involved in the San Benito Islands expedition in the video below.
Source: Sea Shepherd