This could be one of the most significant marine finds in recent years.
On Nov. 17, a group on board the vessel Martin Sheen saw three beaked whales surfacing near the San Benito Islands. Beaked whales are quite small and have very distinct snouts and sounds.
The team thought they were looking at Perrin’s beaked whale, which is one of 23 known species of beaked whale in the world. However, no confirmed live sightings of Perrin’s beaked whale exist and its population size and geographic range are unknown.
The team was in the area because they had previously recorded a sound in the water, dubbed BW43, and couldn’t identify the whale species associated with it.
“We thought we had an expedition to find one animal but what we saw was even more amazing,” Dr. Jay Barlow, who was working with the expedition, said.
“So we wanted to find the source of BW43’s sound.
“We wanted to find Perrin’s beaked whale. What we ended up finding was another beaked whale species.”
The crew obtained photos and videos and used a specialized underwater microphone to take more recordings of the acoustic signals. Environmental genetic sampling is currently being analyzed to help prove the existence of a new species.
Barlow said they surfaced very close to their boat and kept coming back two or three times.
“It was the most amazing encounter of beaked whales I’ve ever had,” he said.
“(It’s) something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that’s known to exist. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that we’ve discovered a new species. And I’m just putting the brakes on that notion but I really do believe it.
“I believe we’ve found something truly unique and something that we’ve never found before.”
The researchers on this expedition know the whales they encountered are beaked whales but they do not match any other known species.
Dr. Andrew Trites, professor of the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Zoology at UBC told Global News he is very excited about the news from the Sea Shepherd expedition.
He said there are only 91 cetacean species in the world so finding a new one would be remarkable.
“A few years ago there were only 90,” he said. “So this is now the second new species of big whale that’s been identified, which is wonderful. But also makes us wonder how we could have missed it for so long.”
Trites said when he saw the footage it looks like a new species of whale as the body looks different.
If this whale is a new species, there would now be 92 cetacean species worldwide.
“Finding a new species is huge,” said Barlow. “Finding a new species of mammal, a large mammal, is just incredible.
“If our wishes come true and if this truly is a new species of beaked whale it will inspire a new generation of scientists that will want to go out and discover.”