DNA analysis of 178 beaked whale samples has turned up an entirely new species: a black variation in the northern Pacific that is a rare sight even for frequent seafarers.
The samples, which included museum specimens as well as the remains of a whale found on an island in the Bering Sea, were examined by an international team of researchers that has reported its findings in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
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The new whale is colored black and tops out at about 25 feet long, fully grown. It looks a lot like the more common Baird's beaked whale, save for its smaller size and darker color.
The elusive cetacean has been out there on the water all along. But sightings of it are rare, and no one had studied it closely enough to see that it was a new species.
"Japanese whalers have known about the black form but didn't consider it a separate species," said Erich Hoyt, study co-author and research fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, in a statement.
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All told, eight examples of the new species were found among the nearly 200 samples studied by the team.
"The challenge in documenting the species was simply locating enough specimens to provide convincing evidence," said lead author Phillip Morin, a biologist at the NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
"Clearly this species is very rare and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants," Morin added.
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