One of the world’s most elusive mammals has finally been caught on video: True’s beaked whales.
Beaked whales are a family of 22 cetacean species, identifiable by their missile-shaped bodies and dolphin-like noses. They were named for American biologist Frederick True, who first described the whales in the early 1900s, CNET reports. They dive deeper and longer than other marine mammals, spending an estimated 92% of their live away underwater. Since they are so rarely seen, they have remained largely a mystery.
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, has been studying beaked whales for 15 years. She said, “Imagine, these are animals the size of elephants that we just can’t find. They’re a mystery.”
In 2013, a colleague sent her a video clip taken by science students who were on a field trip in the Azores, The Washington Post reports. The footage showed three oblong sea animals moving through the water. They pointed their beaks up, breaking the surface of the water for a few seconds before sinking back down.
Aguilar de Soto said,
When I saw the video, I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘My god, these are True’s beaked whales.’
This video was the first to ever show the beaked whales in the wild. It was released along with a detailed study on the elusive mammals that combined data from strandings and sightings with genetic studies of whales from the northern and southern hemispheres. Aguilar de Soto, lead author on the study, calls it one of the most comprehensive works on True’s beaked whales.
Scientists hope that this closer look at the whales will help open doors to more research and provide a better understanding of the animals’ behaviors and distribution. Aguilar de Soto thinks further investigation may ultimately help the species survive, too. “We don’t know how large the populations of True’s beaked whale or any other species are. The populations could decline and we would never know.”
The study was published in the PeerJ Journal.