Live cetacean sightings went from zero to 14, making Berardius minimus the London bus of the whale world.
When the Sato’s beaked whale (Berardius minimus) first appeared on the scene in 2019, whispers of a rare and elusive whale were finally matched by evidence of a new species. However, as no one had ever successfully identified a living Sato’s beaked whale before, the finding was made based on carcasses. Till now, that is.
In a document submitted to Marine Mammal Science, it was reported that the first confirmed sighting of a living Sato’s beaked whale had occurred. Researchers studying orcas who were situated between the Hokkaido Islands in Japan and the Kuril Islands in Russia experienced a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of not one but 14 of the elusive animals.
These extremely rare cetaceans are naughty creatures. They can grow to a length of 7 meters (23 feet), however due to their narrow bodies (when compared to other whales that are equally big, like orcas), they were given the nickname “spindle-shaped” by the scientists who discovered them.
Because beaked whales lack a visible blow, unlike other whales who signal their presence by spouting water into the air, these whales stayed unnoticed for a very long time. This makes it challenging to see their smooth heads as they glide gently through the water, making them particularly elusive in choppy waters.
In comparison to its closest relatives, the Sato’s beaked whale is also darker. The Sato’s colour is what caused Japanese whalers to refer to them as karasu, which is Japanese for “crow” or “raven,” because they realized the Sato’s were distinct from other whales in the area (this was before the species was scientifically recognized).
Even though they were discrete, researchers in the Kurilsky Nature Reserve off the coast of Kunashir Island were nevertheless able to spot three pods over the course of six days. Between four and five people made up each group, and their identities were verified using a remote sampling tool that collects skin samples using both a crossbow and a floating arrow. Exactly like Katniss Everdeen.
The whales made it difficult for the researchers, despite the fact that their observations were substantial and fortunate.
The authors found the following characteristics when studying Sato’s beaked whales. Because of their low profile, whales’ bodies are typically difficult to see, even in calm seas. At distances of more than 300-500 meters [984-1,640 feet], they are only noticeable when they arch while surfacing and diving.
“Animals that were flat on the surface were unnoticeable, especially in a rough sea. The absence of obvious blows also made it difficult to recognize them.
The researchers claim that the sound of the Sato’s whales exhaling was the sole real indicator, and it could only be heard while their boat was drifting with the motor off. The most effective method of finding these elusive creatures appears to be the traditional 20-minute “float-and-listen” method of cetacean observation.
The study’s authors concluded, “Our observations give the first understanding of the ecology and behavior of Sato’s beaked whales. To assess the status of the species and identify present threats, more fieldwork is required.
[H/T: Hakai Magazine]