Scientists have confirmed the discovery of a new species of Berardius Genus whale thriving in the depths of the northern Pacific Ocean.
Genetic testing carried out in Japan on 3 black beaked whales in 2013 was followed up by 3 more years of further tests which have finally confirmed that what was first thought to be a dwarf variety of the more common Baird's beaked whale (from the original 2013 tests), is actually a completely new species of beaked whale which lives in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Researchers needed a wider sample size than the 3 whales found in the one location in order to declare with certainty they had indeed unearthed a new whale species.
Phillip Morin, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research molecular biologist along with his team, spent the next few years from 2013 onwards analysing over 178 beaked whale specimens collected from all around the Pacific Rim.
5 Alaskan samples matched the Japanese whales tested.
Their detailed whale species discovery research can be perused in Marine Mammal Science, a respected journal.
The oldest match, a beaked whale skull recovered from the Aleutians in 1948 housed in the Smithsonian Institution in the US was formerly thought to be a Baird's beaked whale but turns out it is representative of this new species.
Another of the matches came from a specimen recovered from Alaska found in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.
The next match came from a Bering Sea whale tissue sample courtesy of The Southwest Fisheries Science Center. This Center also had another black beaked whale tissue sample match taken in 2004 from the Unalaska Island in the Aleutians.
The most recent match was from a 2014 whale sample from St George Island in the Bering Sea in 2014.
The discovery is classified as a new species in the Berardius genus -this now means there are 3 species in the genus -the Baird's and Arnoux's beaked whale. Genetically this new species is evidence of a distinct evolutionary lineage. It shares more similarities with the Arnoux species than the Baird.
About 2 thirds the size of a Baird's beaked whale
The largest beaked whale varieties can reach up to 40 feet in length and spend up to 90 minutes underwater searching for giant squid and bottom-dwelling fish in the depths of the ocean up to 3,000m below sea level.
They are difficult to research because they travel in small numbers, blend into their surroundings and rarely surface. On the rare occasion they do breach, they may spend only a few minutes doing so.
These whales are particularly hard to see, especially when the water isn't absolutely calm so researchers are planning on turning to acoustic research to further investigate this new species.
Currently the research scientists are in the formal process of 'describing' it- detailing its measurements and defining how it is different from other beaked whales, along with giving it an official Latin and common name – at present it goes by it's not yet official title: "Karasu, which is Japanese for 'raven'."
Morin is keen to document Karasu whales in the wild so scientists know where they can find these elusive giants of the deep when organising future research expeditions.
Erich Hoyt, a co-author of the study and a research fellow at Whale and Dolphin Conservation in the United Kingdom is renewing calls for an end to Japanese whaling pointing out that these marine mammals are far more complex than humans know -scientists continue to find evidence of the highly social nature and long-term relationships developed between individual whales.
These characteristics echo human behaviour and make it even less acceptable to hunt these highly intelligent and complex ocean giants in the 21st century.