As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico

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As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico
Possible new species of a beaked whale discovered off the coast of Mexico, in the Pacific OceanElizabeth Henderson/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
  • Researchers may have spotted a new species of beaked whale in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Mexico.
  • The whales do not match any previously known 23 species of beaked whales, visually or acoustically, according to the team.
  • What makes this sighting even rarer is that the whales came up to swim right next to the boat even though beaked whales are known for staying deep underwater to avoid their primary predator — the killer whale.
Researchers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were on the lookout for the elusive Perin’s beaked whale when they came across something entirely different. It was still a beaked whale — just one that neither looks nor sounds like the 23 species that already exist.

As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico
Previously undiscovered species of beaked whales spotted off the coast of BajaElizabeth Henderson/​Sea Shepherd Conservation Society​

“This is like searching for the last Mastodon [an exist species of elephants akin to woolly mammals] that still somehow in a valley somewhere on this planet and finding a unicorn instead,” said Jay Barlow from Scripps Institution of Oceanography on discovering that this could possibly be a new 24th species of the beaked whale.

According to him, the new species of beaked whale is as big as a Clydesdale horse — a Scottish breed of stallions known for its size and strength.
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As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico
New beaked whale species spotted underwaterSimon Ager/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The rarest of sightings
Two weeks into the expedition off the coast of Baja, in the Pacific Ocean, the crew saw three whales come right up to the board during one of the ‘drops’. A drop is when acoustic recording packages are released into the ocean to drift along with currents for days to weeks to capture any underwater sounds.

As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico
One the team's acoustic instruments to catch whale calls underwaterSea Shepherd Conservation Society announcement video

This was surprising because beaked whales generally remain deep underwater to avoid their main predator, killer whales. They can dive up to 2,000 metres below the ocean’s surface, and that’s where they spend most of their lives aside from coming up for air every once in a while.
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"These animals popped to the surface right next to the boat," said Barlow.

As rare as a ‘unicorn’ — a new horse-sized species of the beaked whale spotted off the coast of Mexico
Three beaked whales of unknown species spotted coming up to the surface, right next to the research boatSea Shepherd Conservation Society announcement video

This may be the first sighting of these new species of beaked whales, but it may not be the first time that they’ve been heard. Back in 2018, scientists heard a signal unlike any previously recorded. At the time, they concluded that these mystery signals heard off the coast of California were from a Perrin's whale, but if the new discovery holds true — it may change the status quo of those recordings.

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