Jul19

Rare beaked whale encounter stuns ORCA team

Author // Sally Hamilton Categories // Survey & Sightings News

Rare beaked whale encounter stuns ORCA team

A pod of True's beaked whales appeared next to Pont-Aven in a once in a lifetime sighting during ORCA's trip with Jessops.

The animals, a rare species in the genus Mesoplodon, has only been seen alive a handful of times, and this sighting is only the second confirmed sighting of the species in the Bay of Biscay.

The group of four animals were seen by a group of ORCA guides and passengers during the inaugural Photographic Sea Safari, a three day wildlife photography trip crossing from Portsmouth to Santander before returning to Plymouth.

The animals were initially believed to be Sowerby's beaked whales but, on inspecting some of the 700+ photos captured, distinctive protruding teeth were seen at the front of the animals beak, a hallmark of the True's beaked whale.

Trues Beaked Whale Close Up Showing Distinctive Placement of Teeth

ORCA's team contacted a number of leading experts of beaked whales to confirm the sighting, and after much examination the sightings were verified as True's beaked whales.

ORCA Director Sally Hamilton said: "This encounter is the perfect example of the power of citizen science - without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers on board we would never have collected this important data or been given the opportunity to observe these elusive creatures in the wild."

"This is a truly landmark sighting and we hope that it will have a profound scientific in enhancing our understanding of the True's beaked whales."

Dr James Mead of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, one of the world’s pre-eminent experts on beaked whales, commented on the photos: “I have just written a book with Richard Ellis, combining our experiences on beaked whales, and I have never seen such magnificent photos as these. True’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) is known from 51 strandings in the North Atlantic.”

Breaching Trues Beaked Whales 2

“But, strandings represent animals that have died, and may have strayed from their native habitat. This sighting of 4 individuals, who are gleefully jumping, gives us one more picture of that species. This species is also known from the Southern Oceans where there have been 28 strandings. The southern population is colored quite a bit different from the North Atlantic population.”

ORCA teams will be keeping a close eye out for this species on future trips, including our remaining 2018 Sea Safari's and our 2019 trips with Jessops Academy, so be sure to join us at sea soon and help with the search!