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Rare Beaked Whales Seen Off Australia

Jan 14, 2016 01:30 PM EST

A pod of rarely seen Arnoux's beaked whales showed up recently along the edge of Australia's Continental Shelf, near the southeast coast town of Narooma, according to an article in Narooma News. This species is sometimes called bottlenose whales, and they are present only in the Southern Hemisphere -- though they are often confused with Baird's beaked whales in the Northern Hemisphere. Because they dive and swim deep, their numbers worldwide are not well-known. 

Fishermen from the Canberra Game Fishing Club spotted the group of sleek whales.

Despite a somewhat dolphin-like appearance, Arnoux's beaked whales are much larger and can reach a size of up to 31 feet long.

"We saw them off in the distance and we didn't realize they were something different until they came closer," said club member James Kemp in the article. "The splashes were huge and Greg reckons they were between 12 and 15 tons."

After seeing the whales' beaks, Kemp did some research and later posted on social media, to learn that the creatures had been Arnoux's beaked whales, Berardius arnuxii. They are sometimes seen in stranded groups around Australia, but they also seem to be well-adapted to ice-covered areas, such as near Antarctica. 

He heard from Stephanie Sharpe from the organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), who said, according to the article: "There are about 20 different types and they share many physical similarities so can be difficult to identify. Beaked whales live in deep, offshore waters so are less often seen than other species, indeed some have only ever been recorded from stranded individuals. To have seen these whales breaching is very special indeed."

The Australian Government's Department of Environment website says that Arnoux's beaked whales off Australia are known from sightings in only five areas: South Australia, southwest Western Australia (two), Tasmania and areas nearer to Antarctica. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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