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Science & Technology

World's rarest whale sighted in New Zealand

The world's rarest whale has been spotted in New Zealand. The species is so rare, it had been unclear whether it was extinct or not.

The spade-toothed whale, or Mesoplodon traversii, has never even been seen alive. Now, a new report published Tuesday in the journal "Current Biology" confirms that specimens found of a mother and her male calf were indeed the elusive creature.

"This is the first time this species - a whale over five meters in length - has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them," said Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland to the AFP news agency.

"Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period," she added. "It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal."

Initially misidentified

The whales were found stranded on New Zealand's Opape Beach in December 2010. Conservation workers initially misidentified them as the much more common Gray's beaked whale, and buried them.

The "Current Biology" report says the identity of the creatures was confirmed through DNA testing, saying it is the first time scientists are able to describe the world's "rarest and perhaps most enigmatic" marine mammal.

The spade-toothed whale was first discovered by bones found in 1872.

"It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore," said Constantine. "New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us."

dr/rg (AFP, AP)