Rare beaked whales off South Australia

This February 2012 video says about itself:

In a lucky encounter, the Australian Antarctic Division research team spotted a group of extremely rare Shepherd’s beaked whales off the coast of Australia.

From Wildlife Extra:

One of the world’s rarest and least known whales photographed off South Australia

“Shepherd’s” delight as survey records extremely rare whale off Kangaroo Island

June 2013. A small pod of extremely rare Shepherd’s beaked whales has been spotted and photographed off South Australia’s Kangaroo Island by a team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who were conducting an acoustic whale research survey. These whales are so rarely seen that no population estimate for them exists.

“These mysterious whales have been seen in the wild only a handful of times. That our research team encountered this group and was able to capture footage of them at the surface is incredibly special,” said Matthew Collis, IFAW campaigns manager.

Second sighting

The sighting was made very close to another sighting of Shepherd’s beaked whales in the area last year. “To have sightings in close proximity in two consecutive years of one of the world’s most rarely seen whales suggests the waters off Kangaroo Island are very important for this species,” added Mr Collis.

The waters of South Australia have previously been recognised as a worldwide hotspot for beaked whales but based mostly on strandings of dead animals.

Kangaroo Island whale survey

The sighting was made during an acoustic and visual survey for whales being conducted off the west coast of Kangaroo Island. The area, known as the Kangaroo Island Pool and Canyons, is identified in a number of Government documents as an important area for whales but very little detailed scientific research has been undertaken. This was the first ever acoustic survey carried out in the area.

IFAW has pioneered the use of passive acoustics – listening for whales with underwater microphones – as a survey method in various locations around the world. As whales spend very little time at the surface and use sound to communicate, navigate, and find prey underwater, acoustic monitoring is one of the most effective methods to detect these animals and can be conducted 24-hours a day.

Seismic tests

“That we encountered whales virtually every day of the survey just underlines how important this area is for marine life. Yet this survey was at exactly the time of year that deafening seismic testing to search for oil and gas is planned in the area.

Most vulnerable to seismic tests

“Most worrying of all is that beaked whales are the group of whales thought to be the most susceptible to the negative impacts of man-made noise. Strandings and deaths of beaked whales have been linked with the use of military sonar and it is thought that other noise sources, such as shipping and seismic testing, are likely to affect this acoustically sensitive group of whales,” concluded Mr Collis.

Shepherd’s Beaked whales

At about seven metres long, Shepherd’s beaked whales are around half the length of a humpback whale but are one of the larger species of beaked whale.

Very little is known about most beaked whales even though they represent a quarter of all whale species. Generally, they are found in deep waters and regularly dive at depths of more than 1000m, for long periods foraging for squid and fish.

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