Wednesday, 27 July 2016

New species of beaked whale confirmed by DNA


DNA analysis identifies eight known specimens of elusive North Pacific species

Date: July 26, 2016
Source: NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

An international team of scientists who searched out specimens from museums and remote Arctic islands has identified a rare new species of beaked whale that ranges from northern Japan across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

Japanese whalers call the enigmatic black whales "karasu," the Japanese word for raven. The new species is darker in color and about two-thirds the size of the more common Baird's beaked whale, but so scarce that even whalers rarely see them.

A DNA analysis of 178 beaked whales from around the Pacific Rim found eight known examples of the new species, the scientists reported today in the journal Marine Mammal Science. The eight included specimens from the Smithsonian Institution and Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, a skeleton on display in an Alaska high school, and another that puzzled researchers trying to identify it when it washed up on an island in the Bering Sea.

"The challenge in documenting the species was simply locating enough specimens to provide convincing evidence," said Phillip Morin, a research molecular biologist at NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and lead author of the new study. "Clearly this species is very rare, and reminds us how much we have to learn about the ocean and even some of its largest inhabitants."

An earlier Japanese study had suggested that the black whales, sometimes considered a dwarf form of Baird's beaked whale, might represent a new species. That sent Morin in search of additional genetic samples to definitively answer the question and better understand the range of the elusive species.

He turned first to the Southwest Fisheries Science Center's marine mammal tissue collection, the largest in the world, and found two samples that appeared to represent a new species. One came from a whale found in Alaska's Aleutian Islands in 2004, whose skeleton now hangs on display at Unalaska High School. Then he and his colleagues pursued additional DNA samples from museums, research institutions and Japanese markets where whale meat is sold.

In 2014 scientists found a dead beaked whale on St. George Island, one of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. When it did not match any known species, they sent samples to Morin. Genetic tests later showed it to be the new species.





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