A previously unknown whale species has been discovered off the coast of Mexico close to San Benito Islands. The three whales were spotted about 100 miles north of the islands and around 300 miles from the United States border.
Scientists discovered this new species by using an underwater microphone that detects acoustic signals given off by whales (called echolocation signals). Their signals were completely different and never heard before by experts. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr. Jay Barlow, who is from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and who led the expedition, explained, “The beaked whales all make these very characteristic echolocation pulses and they use it to find their food source.” “Beaked whale echolocation pulses are quite distinct because they have this characteristic upsweep to them.”
Scientists were actually pretty lucky and shocked when they discovered this new species. In fact, they were out in the water studying a completely different species. A previously unknown acoustic signal called BW43 was detected off the coast of California in 2018 and they believed that it belonged to a species called Perrin’s beaked whale (also known as Mesoplodon perrini). When the experts were on the water on November 17th of this year looking for that species, they put their microphone in the water to record echolocation and that’s when they noticed the three previously unknown beaked whale species. Additionally, they were able to confirm that their acoustic signals were not the same as BW43.
They also took several photographs of the species and found that their tusk/tooth was in a totally different location than other beaked whales. Based on those new facts, experts are “highly confident” that they belong to a never-before-seen species.
Dr. Barlow described their findings, “We saw something new, something that was not expected in this area, something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist,” adding, “It just sends chills up and down my spine when I think that we might have accomplished what most people would say was truly impossible – finding a large mammal that exists on this earth that is totally unknown to science.”
And the species may have been around as long as humans, as Barlow noted, “It’s a one-tonne animal that’s co-existed on this globe with us for as long as we’ve been here and yet no-one has classified it, no-one has recognized it as being something different.”
Analysis on their environmental genetic samples is currently being conducted which should conclusively prove the existence of this new species. Pictures of the whale as well as a video can be seen here.