Scientists have come face-to-face with the rarest whale on the planet. Two spade-toothed beaked whales beached themselves in New Zealand in 2010, and a new paper describes researchers' identification and analysis of the creatures. "Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period. It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal," says a researcher.
"This is the first time this species has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them." They were a 17-foot-long mother and 11-foot-long calf, LiveScience reports. Initially, scientists had thought they were Gray's beaked whales, a far more common species. "We ran the samples a few times to make sure before we told everyone," adds the researcher. So why are they so hard to find? "It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash(es) ashore," she says.