Ten years ago, in November, 2011, a large mammal washed up on the shore south of Haast, New Zealand. Discovered by indigenous Māoris of the Makaawhio tribe, the deceased female measured about 5 meters (16 feet) long and weighed around 1 ton, or roughly the size of a small sedan. Initially, because of a very close resemblence, the whale was thought to be a True’s beaked whale (M. mirus). Genetic tests proved this incorrect, and only recently have they been declared to be a new species of beaked whale: Mesoplodon eueu. The common name, ‘Ramari’s beaked whale’, honors Māori whale expert Ramari Stewart, who was among the Māoris who discovered the beached animal in November 2011. ‘Ramari’ means “rare event” in the Māori language.
Beaked whales (there are 23 species in the ziphiidae family) are difficult to observe as they spend only enough time at the surface to exhale the old and inhale a fresh breath of air. They then dive back down to the vicinity of 3,000 feet below the surface where they may stay for more than three hours. One reason M. eueu may dive this deep is because that’s where their favorite dinner is served: squid. Another theory explains that Orcas would prey upon them if they dallied too long near the surface.
Not many examples of M. eueu have ever been collected, but the average Ramari’s Beaked Whale is currently considered to be 17 feet long and weigh more than a ton. A large tusk protrudes from the lower jaw up and past the upper jaw, which is thought to be a useful tool for consuming squid. Besides New Zealand, M. eueu have been identified in the waters of southern Australia and South Africa. These whales may inhabit the cool-water latitudes encircling Antarctica.
After centuries of scientific exploration and cataloging, it’s still exciting whenever a new species is discovered. Every new species we identify is a reminder that there’s an incredible number of things we don’t yet know about our home planet, Earth.
Species: M. eueu
Binomial name: Mesoplodon eueu (Carroll et al, 2021)