Oct 16, 2014 02:41 PM EDT
When a whale washes ashore, researchers and government agencies are usually the first on scene to assess the causes of death. As rather rare occurrences, only happening perhaps a couple of times a year, they provide much insight into the current state of the ocean and how many factors are affecting aquatic species. However, when a rare beaked whale washed ashore in Australia earlier this week, Tuesday Oct. 14, researchers were eager to get to the scene for an entirely different reason - the opportunity to learn something about a deep diving mammal we know so little about.
"It is sad, but also exciting, as we can learn so much more about the animal" president of Organization for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia, Ronny Ling says.
A rather small specimen, roughly only 12 feet long, the beaked whale was found dead at Australia's Redhead Beach, 90 miles north of Sydney. Researchers on scene began examining the whale and collecting specimens for preliminary information before sending portions of its carcass (namely its head) to the Australian Museum in Sydney for further analysis.
"We don't know much about them, we rarely get to see them. We have taken samples and measurements, and will remove the head and send it to the Australian Museum" Ling says. "The jaws will be X-rayed, and together with DNA it should confirm the species of beaked whale."
Much is not known of the beaked family of whales due to the fact that their deep-diving behavior and deep sea ecosystems are often elusive for researchers to track. Though, current research published this year in the journal PLOS ONE revealed that in spite of their small size, Cuvier's beaked whales could dive to depths as far as 9,816 feet and hold their breaths for 137.5 minutes while underwater - setting new records for mammalian species.
In fact, many marine researchers find that even if they study cetaceans as their primary subjects, they may never catch a glimpse of the beaked whales. Commenting on ABC radio, marine biologist Elise Bailey said that even after her 20 years of studying cetaceans from oceans around the world, this is her first sighting of the beaked creatures for herself.
"You don't normally see a beaked whale come into these water; it's an oceanic animal it's usually going to be way out in very deep offshore waters" Bailey said.
And while preliminary autopsy reports have not yet been disclosed by the Australian government, many researchers believe that it may be a while before veterinarians are able to determine the cause of death, as the rarity of this sighting could reveal many different factors leading to the beaked whale washing ashore.
"It could be sick, it could be old, it could have had some trauma."
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