Sometime in the recent past, a group of educators and schoolkids set out on a boating field trip in Macaronesia and cruised into something unusual. Three whales, with rounded bodies and tapered heads, began bobbing around their inflatable boat, coming up to breathe and then diving back down again.
Someone quickly dove into the water with a GoPro, and it’s a good thing they did. These weren’t your average whales—they were True’s beaked whales, a deep-diving species never before filmed in the wild.
“These are whales that very few people in the world have ever seen,” marine biologist Natacha Aguilar de Soto, who identified the footage, told New Scientist. True’s beaked whales dive for hours at a time, surfacing only briefly to breathe, so they’re tough for humans to catch sight of. They also dive very deep—generally over half a mile below the surface—likely in order to eat squid.
Even though we haven’t seen much of the True’s beaked whale, once these guys were caught on video, there was no mistaking them, says Aguilar de Soto. True’s beaked whales have distinctive white patches on their heads, which scientists sometimes call “white beanies” because they look like little caps. They also have small indents in the sides of their bodies, where they tuck their flippers during deep dives.
Experts hope that studying this video footage will help them identify True’s beaked whales when they encounter them at sea. In the meantime, they’re very, very jealous of this group of schoolchildren.
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