New ‘beaked’ whale species discovered off coast of Japan

Pleasure to meet you, Berardius minimus.

A strange-looking new species of whale has been discovered off the coast of Japan. Though it’s similar to a previously known kind of whale also marked by a short “beak,” researchers confirmed local whalers’ suspicions that there was something different about these guys.

The new whale species, B. minimus, stands apart from the rest of the Berardius genus, explained Tadasu Yamada, a curator at the National Museum of Nature and Science, in a press release.

“Just by looking at them, we could tell that they have a remarkably smaller body size, more spindle-shaped body, a shorter beak and darker color compared to known Berardius species,” Yamada says.

The researchers say the discovery was an exciting one for the world of whales.

“A species of 6- to 7-meter whale was not scientifically recognized until the 21st Century!” Yamada tells Gizmodo.

The team of researchers from the US National Museum of Natural History, Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science, Hokkaido University and Iwate University collaborated to collect six stranded whale carcasses along the Okhotsk Sea’s coast. They then analyzed the animals’ skulls and found a number of distinct characteristics.

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“Two types of Berardius are recognized by local whalers in Hokkaido, Japan,” begins the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports. “The first is the ordinary Baird’s beaked whale, B. bairdii, whereas the other is much smaller and entirely black.”

Scientists say B. minimus’ long diving capacity, preference for deep ocean waters and dark color are among the reasons they swam under the radar for so long.

The discovery puts into perspective how much we have to learn about the ocean and its creatures, research program officer Dee Allen at the Marine Mammal Commission tells Gizmodo. She was not involved in the study, but was thrilled to learn about it.

“The fact that we are still discovering new species in our oceans — in this case, animals as big as 6.9 meters — is what makes science, and especially ocean science, so exciting,” says Allen.

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