Aug 2, 2014

saturday med.itations: Smallest Whale Found

In 1976 Dr. James Mead, (former ) curator of marine mammals at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., walked along a beach on the coast of Peru. He was hoping to catch sight of some whales. On the beach Dr. Mead found a badly damaged skull of what he took to be a type of beaked-whale. However, it was the smallest beaked-whale skull that Dr. Mead had ever seen, and he suspected that the skull belonged to a new species. After his discovery of the skull, Dr. Mead began his quest for additional evidence. It took 15 more years to prove that the creature actually existed.

Dr. Mead gave the new whale the scientific name Mesaplodon peruvianus. It doesn’t have a common name, and you won’t find it illustrated in a field guide to marine mammals. We will call it the Peruvian beaked whale for lack of an official common name.

As their name indicates, beaked whales have long snouts. They look somewhat like dolphins, but are much larger. Because they live far from shore and can spend up to an hour in very deep water, beaked whales are the hardest of all whales to see. In Dr. Mead’s words, “If an animal that has those characteristics also doesn’t like boats, you don’t see it.” As of 1991, when scientist accepted the existence of the Peruvian beaked whale, no one had yet seen a living example of the new species. Dr. Mead collected all or portions of 11 additional specimens. They were either caught in fishing nets or washed up on the beach, as did the original skull.

From these specimens Dr. Mead has concluded that the Peruvian beaked whale is indeed the smallest of the beaked whales. The largest specimen found was only 12 feet long – very small by whale standards. No one knows anything about the whale’s range except that it occurs off the coast of Peru, although the creature may range both northward and southward along the coast of South America.

God’s wonders continue to be discovered everywhere we look – from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the sea.

-source: Nature Quest

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