Researchers Identify a New Species of Beaked Whale

Scientists are constantly discovering new species of sea life, but rarely do they come across something the size of a whale. According to National Oceanic And Atmospheric Association (NOAA), a team of researchers has identified a new species of beaked whale native to the Pacific Ocean.

The scientists detailed their discovery in a recent paper in Marine Mammal Science [PDF]. After analyzing DNA from 178 beaked whale specimens around the Pacific Rim, they found eight that matched the new species. The whale has yet to be seen alive by experts: The specimens researchers used to identify it included a skeleton on a display at an Alaska high school (below), meat from a Japanese fish market, and a rotting carcass that washed up on an Alaskan island.

In the past, most remains recovered from the mysterious species had been attributed to the Baird’s beaked whale. Like the Baird’s whale, the new species has a dolphin-like snout and can reach great depths while diving. The most dramatic difference is size. Baird’s whales can grow up to 42 feet, while the new species appears to top out at 25 feet. Baird’s whales are also lighter in color. The unnamed whale species’s black hue earned it the nickname karasu or “raven” among Japanese whalers.

Baird's beaked whale. Image credit: Junko Kimura / Getty

Of all the whales that inhabit the ocean, beaked whales are some of the most mysterious. Choosing a name for this new species will be the easy part for scientists. After that, the focus will be on conservation. As study co-author Erich Hoyt told NOAA, “Discovering a new species of whale in 2016 is exciting but it also reveals how little we know and how much more work we have to do to truly understand these species.”

[h/t NOAA]

Header/banner images: Don Graves/NOAA via Twitter

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Watch How a Bioluminescence Expert Catches a Giant Squid

Giant squid have been the object of fascination for millennia; they may have even provided the origin for the legendary Nordic sea monsters known as the Kraken. But no one had captured them in their natural environment on video until 2012, when marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder snagged the first-ever images off Japan's Ogasawara Islands [PDF]. Widder figured out that previous dives—which tended to bring down a ton of gear and bright lights—were scaring all the creatures away. (Slate compares it to "the equivalent of coming into a darkened theater and shining a spotlight at the audience.")

In this clip from BBC Earth Unplugged, Widder explains how the innovative camera-and-lure combo she devised, known as the Eye-in-the-Sea, finally accomplished the job by using red lights (which most deep-sea creatures can't see) and an electronic jellyfish (called the e-jelly) with a flashy light show just right to lure in predators like Architeuthis dux. "I've tried a bunch of different things over the years to try to be able to talk to the animals," Widder says in the video, "and with the e-jelly, I feel like I'm finally making some progress."

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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