Azores and Canary Islands a hot-spot for studying True’s beaked whales.
Beaked whales are broadly distributed in all oceans of the world. But the True’s beaked whale, a deep-diving mammal, is so rarely seen that it often defies recognition at sea by researchers. Up to now, there are no estimates of global or local population abundance of the species. Now scientists achieved for the first time to obtained underwater video of these whales and close images of a calf.
The study was lead by Dr. Natacha Aguilar de Soto from the Scottish Ocean Institute of the St. Andrews University. She is studying mammals and impacts of underwater acoustic pollution on them, both of them with implications for conservation biology.
What are the new insights that the study is giving?
In a study published in PeerJ, a large team of scientists put together the largest collection of sightings with photos of this species, including the first underwater video and first images of a young calf of True’s beaked whale. Additionally, the first genetic confirmation of True’s beaked whales in the Canary Islands was accomplished. Two stranded whales in the Canary Islands were used for the genetic analyses. Furthermore, the stranded whale showed a colouration pattern that has not been previously described for this species.
True’s beakes whale pictures by Michael Scheer / DOI: 10.7717:peerj.3059:fig-13
How come that young students witness the capture of this rare video footage?
The video was taken during an educational trip for young students in the framework of the program Master Mind. “Suddenly, four beaked whales appear from nowhere and swim slowly around the boat, with deep blows, allowing the teacher to film them from the boat with a small underwater camera” states Dr. Natacha Aguilar de Soto in the PeerJblog. She adds that “These students witnessed by chance what many researchers who have devoted their life to study whales at sea have never seen: a group of free-swimming True´s beaked whales.”
Watch video footage of the True’s beaked whale:
Why are these data so important?
The True’s beaked whales are so rarely seen that it often defies recognition at sea by researchers. Field identification is a common method to study the distribution and abundance of mammals. Consequently, the data of this study are highly valuable, as they enable to learn more about how to recognize a True’s beaked whale at sea.
More importantly, when people that work at the sea have good photos they can “try to identify what species they saw, and send this information to scientists studying that species” states Dr. Natacha Aguilar de Soto in the PeerJblog.
Furthermore, as this is the first molecular study of True´s beaked whales, it confirms the species identification and gives insights on the populations. In this study authors suggest that the populations of the southern and northern hemispheres match closely. However, they state that more data are required to test this hypothesis.