A young female beaked whale that was washed up on an Australian beach in February had features that suggest a possible evolutionary throwback.
Scientists discover two mysterious, additional teeth - something that experts have never seen before.
The young whale was found on Waitpinga Beach, close to Victor Harbor in Australia. An expert group from Adelaide's South Australian Museum came in to get the animal and perform investigations.
"It was a very windy day when we went down there, and we were walking into driving rain and we could see that it was a beaked whale," said senior research scientist Catherine Kemper.
While the team was in the process of dissection and after they measured body parts and took photos, they took a closer look at the jaws, the most unique parts of the beaked whale.
Teeth Discovery: A First
Kemper recalled how the jaws looked very odd and that the teeth were something that she had not seen before.
Normally, the teeth of female whales do not appear above the jawline. However, for this particular juvenile female whale, there was a pair of pointy, small teeth. Upon seeing these, Kemper could not help but question if the discovery was really something new.
Clarifying Facts, Improving Monitoring Processes
When the carcass of the whale was sent back to the museum, scientists were able to look more closely at the skull. They also cleaned up the remains using bacteria in basins of warm water.
When collections manager David Stemmer pulled out one of the teeth, he was surprised to find that there was a larger tooth underneath.
Even if this is not the first time that a species like this was discovered, it is still exciting because it is rare and is actually only the third one to be found in South Australia.
The group also called on researchers from the Smithsonian Institute in America to aid in the investigations. However, they were not able to solve the puzzle of the teeth.
Despite the lack of confirmed information, the teeth were not recognized as a disfigurement, but rather a possible evolutionary throwback.
Beaked whales usually settle in deep ocean waters and when humans discover them, they are usually already dead. The discovery may then pave the way for a deeper understanding of beaked whales as well as aid in the monitoring and conservation of the species.
Photo: Ryan Somma | Flickr