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DNA confirms world's rarest whale in New Zealand


16:57, November 06, 2012

WELLINGTON, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- A female whale and her young calf which stranded on a New Zealand beach and later died were the first-ever sighted spade-toothed beaked whales, the world's rarest whale, New Zealand scientists announced Tuesday.

A species previously only identified from bone fragments, the two animals were the only two intact specimens of their species ever sighted, according to the University of Auckland scientists.

"This is the first time a spade-toothed beaked whale has been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them," lead scientist Dr Rochelle Constantine said in a statement.

"It's incredible to think that, until recently, such a large animal was concealed in the South Pacific Ocean and shows how little we know about ocean biodiversity."

The scientists used DNA evidence to prove that the mother and male calf were the same species as the one identified from three skull and jaw fragments found around New Zealand and Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile.

The spade-toothed beaked whale was first discovered on Pitt Island in New Zealand's Chatham Islands in 1872, but it was only 2002 that scientists from the university analyzed DNA from the three skull fragments and realized their genetic profiles were the same and did not correspond to any other known species.

Until the stranding on Dec. 31, 2010, however, it was unclear whether the species still existed.

The 5.3-meterlong female whale and the 3.5-meter calf stranded and later died on a beach in the North Island's Bay of Plenty region.

They were initially misidentified as Gray's beaked whales, the most common beaked whale to strand in New Zealand, but the subsequent genetic analysis revealed they were spade-toothed beaked whales.

The skeletal remains have since been exhumed and taken to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

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