What is it like to study an animal without ever having seen a live specimen, in person or on video?
Thus was the life of Natacha Aguilar de Soto, a marine biologist with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of La Laguna in the Canary Islands, who has studied beaked whales for 15 years. Aguilar de Soto had seen stranded beaked whales that washed up on beaches, but she had never seen one actually swimming. These creatures are, after all, elusive due to their deep-diving nature. There have only been a handful of live sightings and no video recordings.
All that changed in 2013 after a colleague sent her the clip above that shows two True's beaked whales swimming in the ocean. "When I saw the video, I just couldn't believe it," Aguilar de Soto told the Washington Post. "I thought, 'My God, these are True's beaked whales.'"
Equipped with the video, Aguilar de Soto and a number of co-authors set to work on a new study about beaked whales, and it recently published in PeerJ. In it, Aguilar de Soto and her colleagues attempt to bring as much light as possible to the mysterious True's beaked whale, using what genetic information has been gathered and combining it with photos of dead and living specimens.
The researchers map out various ways of identifying True's and other beaked whales species, including through genetics and colorization. They also pinpoint certain areas of the oceans in which the whales have been spotted, a particularly useful resource when it comes to tracking down these rarely seen creatures for further observation and study.