Video of a very rare whale

ABC news (the Australian one) has just posted footage of an extremely rare whale, a Shepherd’s beaked whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi) off the southern coast of Australia.  This video footage (at the link above; I can’t embed it) is the first ever taken of this species, previously known from only 6 sighting and 29 strandings.  It’s well worth a look; the whale appears to be swimming in a pod with other species.

Here’s what the beaked whale looks like; this one is from a stranding:

It’s small for a whale; here’s its size relative to that of humans:

Its biology is of course poorly known: what little we do know is described here. It appears to be a deep-water feeder endemic to southern waters. (There are 21 species of beaked whales, and many are poorly known). This is the range of Tasmacetus shepherdi:

h/t: Matthew Cobb


  1. Asura
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “It’s small for a whale.”
    Do you say this about every odonotcete under 6 meters?

    That is not small for an odontocete, if you actually look at the average size of the suborder.

  2. Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the mouth of the beached animal, it looks as though it would be part of the Odontoceti family, which I assume means it would, if smaller, classify as a species of dolphin, and only makes the whale category on the basis of size?

    • Asura
      Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Odontoceti is not a family, it’s a suborder.

      And I believe common names ending in dolphin are typically part of Delphinidae.
      However, dolphin and whale are the most arbitrary names ever, and should really flat-out be ignored by any zoologist not trying to communicate to the most general of the general public.

      • Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Thanks.. I used family as a generic term, rather than a biological classification, so my apologies for that.. I should be more specific, so I stand corrected! 😉

        The classification between dolphin and whale has always interested me, ever since finding out that Orcas are classified as dolphins. They do seem, as you say, quite arbitrays terms.

        Dolphin or whale, they are all absolutely beautiful animals, for which I have a lot of respect.. they fascinate me; even mesmerize me, when I see them o=in wildlife documentaries. Their intelligence, grace and power is quite extraordinary. Seeing a video of one, so rare, is a privilege.

        Best wishes


        • Asura
          Posted February 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          Orcas are indeed part of the Delphinidae family. But if Delphinidae is what you refer to as a dolphin, that just makes dolphin a subcategory of whale, and makes whale in general a term for cetacean. But nobody typically uses them like this, and instead use it as if it was either/or.

          And yes, magnificent they are indeed! There is a reason why some groups want them to be declared people.

  3. Nicholas
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I find these creatures utterly fascinating.

    • Posted February 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I also find them fascinating. If I could go back to graduate school, I would have turned down the biochemistry fellowship and studied these magnificent creatures instead.

  4. Diane G.
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    What fun it must be to be a cetacean scientist!

    The info at the “21 spp of beaked whale” link was especially helpful.

  5. ChasCPeterson
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    more on strange odontocetes

  6. cornbread_r2
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    One of the privileges of my life was seeing a pygmy sperm whale while living in Hawaii. It had died at sea, possibly from a shark attack, and washed up on our beach. It was an adult and about 8 feet in length. Scientists from UH collected it for study. The entire skeleton fit into 4 large trash bags.

  7. Sili
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    How does it taste?

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