Marine biologists have expressed excitement at the opportunity to examine an extremely unusual and rare marine mammal, a "beaked whale" that washed up on a beach in Australia.

Little is known about the rare species with an elongated snout or beak, similar to that of many dolphins, that gives it its name, because its normal habitat is in deep waters far from any coastlines, and encountering one -- even a dead one -- is a rare event, scientists say.

"So for a very, very long time not much has been known about them and so every time we even find one that is dead on the beach, it is a treasure trove for the scientists," said Shona Lorigan of the Organization for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA.)

The whale, around 10 to 13 feet long, was discovered on a beach some 90 miles north of Sydney.

There were plans to remove the dead creature's head for analysis at the Australian Museum in Sydney, ORRCA said.

"The jaws will be X-rayed and together with DNA it should confirm the species of beaked whale," ORRCA President Ronny Ling said.

Of the 22 species of beaked whales in the world's oceans, only three or four have been reasonably well studied.

Beaked whales are the second most numerous family of Cetaceans after the dolphins, and their oldest known fossils have been dated to around 15 million years ago.

One of the deepest diving of any cetacean species, some beaked whales have been known to dive as deep as 9,800 feet and can stay underwater for more than 2 hours.

Because of their preference for the ocean depths, what little is known about beaked whales comes mostly from studies of beached or stranded examples, scientists said.

Elise Bailey, an Australian Museum marine biologist, said in 20 years of study she had never seen one in the flesh until now.

"You don't normally see a beaked whale come into these waters; it's an oceanic animal and it's usually going to be way out in very deep offshore waters," she said.

It is too soon to try and say how the example in Australia died, she said.

"It could be sick, it could be old, it could have had some trauma," she said.

The oldest beaked whale ever recorded was 84 years old.

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