By Lewis Smith
A rarely seen whale has been videoed underwater for the first time.
True’s beaked whale was first described in 1913 but little about it is known.
Researchers hoping to spot and study the animals, one of 22 species of beaked whale, decided to search for them in the Canaries and the Azores after stranded specimens were reported.
During one research cruise in the Azores three True’s beaked whales, one of them a calf, surfaced close to a dinghy operated by scientists.
The encounter, lasting about ten minutes as the whales repeatedly surfaced, gave the researchers an unprecedented opportunity to film the animals live and underwater.
Footage of the whales, and photographs from other sightings in the Azores and the Canaries has enabled scientists to build up a better idea of how to distinguish them from other types of beaked whale.
The international team, reporting their findings in the journal PeerJ, now believes the Azores and Canaries could be hotspots for the species.
Beaked whales are a deep-diving animal and can hold their breath for two hours, reaching depths of more than a mile and a half beneath the surface. True's beaked whales are known to eat squid and fish.
In a statement the scientists, including researchers from the University of St Andrews and the World Cetecean Alliance in Brighton, said: “Beaked whales are vulnerable to human impacts: mass strandings occur in relation to naval exercises using intense sonar signals to detect submarines.
“Also, whales appear on the beach with plastic inside their stomach, entangled in fishing gear or suffering cuts from boat propellers. If these impacts happen offshore and whales don´t reach the beach, we cannot detect them.
“Accurate species identification therefore allows us to learn more about where animals are and how many they are, information which allows us to monitor the status of the populations and act for their conservation.”
True's beaked whales were named by Frederick True, an American biologist who worked with the Smithsonian Institution, shortly before his death in 1914.
Photo: True's beaked whales. Credit: Roland Edler