A pod of extremely rare Shepherd's beaked whales has been photographed for the first time ever as they were swimming in the ocean off the coast of Victoria, Australia.
AFP reports that a team from the Australian Antarctic Division was tracking blue whales in January 2012 when they spotted the reclusive Shepherd's beaked whales.
They are so rarely seen that scientists have no idea how many of them exist.
Shepherd's beaked whales are black and cream in color with prominent dolphin-like beaks.
They have only been seen several times in history. Australian officials say there are only two confirmed sightings of the whales: a single whale was seen in New Zealand and a group of three was spotted in Western Australia. Until now, no photos had ever been taken of Shepherd's beaked whales.
"These animals are practically entirely known from stranded dead whales, and there haven't been many of them," Mike Double of the Australian Antarctic Division told AFP. "They are an offshore animal, occupying deep water, and when they surface it is only for a very short period of time." He called the film footage and photographs "unique."
What is most remarkable about this sighting is the pod had 10 to 12 Shepherd's beaked whales in it. Until now, it was thought this was a solitary creature. "To find them in a pod is very exciting and will change the guide books. Our two whale experts will now carefully study the footage to work out the whale sizes and so on and prepare a scientific paper."
The Shepherd's beaked whale, also known as the Tasman beaked whale, was discovered in 1937 but little is known about them, notes AFP.
--From the Editors at Netscape