New beaked whale species discovered off the coast of Japan
New species turn up on Earth with surprising regularity, but most of the time they’re small, like ants and tarantulas. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we must have found all the big animals like whales by now, but Japanese scientists have managed to find a previously-unknown whale species.
Named Berardius minimus, the new species measures between 6.2 and 6.9 m (20.3 and 22.6 ft) long, is mostly black, and has a small beak like a dolphin. It was identified from six specimens that were found stranded along the northernmost coast of Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. Interestingly, local whalers had long told tales of the strange animals, but they were presumed to belong to a known species, Berardius bairdii.
The specimens were studied by researchers from Hokkaido University, the National Museum of Nature and Science, Iwate University and the United States National Museum of Natural History. While they shared some characteristics with the known animals, there were enough differences to warrant classifying them as a brand new species.
B. minimus is found to grow to be smaller than B. bairdii, with the latter reaching 10 m (32.8 ft) long. B. minimus also has a different-shaped body, a shorter beak, and a darker color. By examining the skull, bones and DNA of the new animals, the team also found a host of other differences.
“There are still many things we don’t know about B. minimus,” says Takashi Matsuishi, lead researcher on the study. “We still don’t know what adult females look like, and there are still many questions related to species distribution, for example. We hope to continue expanding what we know about B. minimus.”
And this may not be the last new species to be found in the vicinity. Locals also tell of another type of whale in the area that they call Karasu, or “crow.” They could of course be referring to the newly-described B. minimus, but the researchers say that there’s also a chance that there’s another new species roaming the northern Japanese waters.
The new species was described in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: Hokkaido University