The Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve Awaits the New Beaked Whale Species
12 Sep — 2019
The Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve Awaits the New Beaked Whale Species

Scientists from Japan and the USA confirmed the fact that beaked whales family has acquired a new member. Berardius minimus inhabits the Pacific Ocean and leads a timid way of life. We know that its habitat is similar to that of its elder brother – Baird’s beaked whale, which is quite common around the Commander Islands. It means that our scientific staff and their colleagues from the mainland will have a chance to research the rare mammal in local waters.  

Scientific Reports Journal published the description of the new species provided by Takashi F. Matsuishi’s research group from Hokkaido University. The scientists identified the new species by six dead animals found along the Okhotsk Sea coast North of Japan.

The whales were classified as members of Beaked whales (Family Ziphiidae, Odontoceti, Cetacea). Though Berardius minimus  has several unique traits, which separate it from other species of the family. "Just by looking at them, we could tell that they have a remarkably smaller body size, more spindle-shaped body, a shorter beak, and darker color compared to known Berardius species," explained Curator Emeritus Tadasu K. Yamada of the National Museum of Nature and Science from the research team.

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Berardius minimus (picture A) is different from Baird’s beaked whale (picture B) by a proportionally smaller beak and darker color. Illustration by Yoshimi Watanabe, National Museum of Nature and Science

Adult individuals of the new species are up to 6.9 meters long, while their bigger relatives can grow to 13 meter. That is why the new species was called Berardius minimus or small beaked whale.

The participant of the research group admit that Berardius minimus is well known by Japanese whalers on Hokkaido with ships based in Kushiro port. For a dark color, (Baird’s beaked whales have a greyish color) the whalers call these animals karasu, which means raven in Japanese.

This species has long stayed unknown because it is very discreet. The animals prefer deep waters of the North Pacific region and dives deep, while seldom appearing in the upper layers of water. It is evident that their bigger brothers served as a kind of distraction, as they are rather alike.

“Baird’s beaked whales are an object of monitoring and research in the water area of the Commander Islands, as they are seen there all year round. Along with the nature reserve scientists, staff of the Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Geography Institute and Moscow State University also work to understand the animals. The beaked whales come to the islands from Japanese waters. Taking into account the fact that the new species has a very similar way of life, we can hope to see it here and the list of species found in the nature reserve will grow,” said Evgeny Mamaev, Deputy Director for Science in the Commander Islands Nature Reserve.

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Baird’s beaked whale in the water area of the reserve. Photo by Evgeny Mamaev

Science has still a lot to discover about these black whales, for example, their numbers and distribution. "There are still many things we don't know about B. minimus," said Takashi F. Matsuishi. "We still don't know what adult females look like, and there are still many questions related to species distribution, for example. We hope to continue expanding what we know about B. minimus."

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