World's Most Elusive Whale Caught on Video for First Time
Scientists on a research voyage in Bass Straight got an exhilarating surprise when they chanced upon what might be the world's most mysterious and elusive whale: the Shepherd's beaked whale. It is believed this is the first time the species has ever been captured on video (shown below).
Since the Shepherd's beaked whale was first described in 1937, there have been only 3 confirmed sightings of the animal besides this one. Due to its extreme rarity, almost nothing is known about the species. What little is known has mostly been derived from strandings or carcasses that have washed ashore. But just over 40 such strandings have ever been recorded.
Adults of the species can reach lengths of about 20-23 feet and typically weigh about 2.32 to 3.48 tons. They have a dark brown color on their dorsal side but are cream-colored ventrally, and males display a pair of tusks at the tip of the lower jaw.
One of the reasons the whales are so difficult to spot is that they are typically found only in deep, offshore habitats where sighting conditions are rarely ideal (i.e., along the latitudes commonly referred to as the "Roaring 40's" and "Furious 50's"). Like other beaked whales within the family Ziphidae, Shepherd's beaked whales can also dive for long periods-- over an hour at a time-- and to extreme depths. In fact, most beaked whales dive to such great depths that they must surface slowly to avoid decompression sickness.
All sightings and strandings of the Shepherd's beaked whales have occurred in waters off New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.
Even though the video clip of the elusive whale is short, scientists think they can glean a great deal of information from the brief encounter, such as how the whales move and organize themselves socially. The last paper on the species was published way back in 2006, so researchers are enthusiastic about the opportunity to update our knowledge on this unique and enigmatic creature.