'Saber-Toothed' Whale Washes Up on California Beach

Image: 'Saber-Toothed' Whale Washes Up on California Beach

Monday, 21 Oct 2013 06:37 AM

By Morgan Chilson

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An extremely rare "saber-toothed" whale washed up in Venice Beach, Calif., last week and scientists were working to discover exactly which species it is.

Heal the Bay reported on its Facebook page along with most media outlets that the creature was a rare Stejneger’s Beaked Whale that normally swims in the more frigid waters near Alaska.

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But on Thursday, the organization posted an update from researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger with the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum that is studying the whale: “Rare beaked whale update! The stranded female beaked whale from Venice Beach may actually turn out to be a different species than our preliminary examination suggested (which is Stejneger's beaked whale). It JUST might be a similar but MUCH more rare species: the Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens)! There have been less that 20 strandings of this species world-wide: only two in the entire eastern North Pacific, and just one in southern CA (1954)!”

Whether it is a Stejneger’s or Ginkgo-toothed Beaked Whale, anyone with an interest in marine biology was likely excited at the discovery. The Los Angeles Times reported that Nick Fash, who volunteers with Heal the Bay and works at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium raced on his bike to see the whale when he heard the news.

“We were very lucky," Fash told the Times. "These whales are incredibly rare and almost never seen in the wild."

The 15-foot whale had numerous round bites from what Fash called cookie-cutter sharks, which feed on bigger animals. It has a pointed beak, and some have teeth that stick out like saber-tooth tigers, although young ones and females sometimes don’t. This one did not.

City News Service talked to Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue, who was there when the whale washed ashore.

“We helped get it out of the water, and it was still alive,” he said. “I was kind of shocked because we couldn't identify it.”

And even when most people thought it had been identified as a rare beaked species of whale, it’s clear that more testing will need to be done.

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