Today’s Solutions: May 23, 2022

Every deep-sea species discovery serves as a reminder of how much there is yet to be discovered in the depths of our oceans. These discoveries are especially resonant when the new species in question are giant mammals like whales.

Now that’s exactly what scientists have recently identified with the help of an Indigenous woman. The new species is called Ramari’s beaked whale after Ramari Stewart, a Mātauranga Māori whale expert who played a key role in identifying the new species. Ramari means “rare event” in the Māori language.

“This species is remarkable both in its unique attributes and its name,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale & Dolphin Conservation-North America (WDC-NA). “It is not only rare to discover new whale species but even more rare to name them after women and honor the indigenous peoples whose coastlines are visited by these amazing creatures.”

The role of indigenous knowledge in the discovery

The discovery dates back to 2011, when a pregnant beaked whale was stranded on a New Zealand beach. At first, experts believed the mammal was a True’s beaked whale. But after a closer examination, Stewart found that it didn’t quite fit the description. Together with a colleague, she discovered that True’s beaked whales in the Southern hemisphere have different genetics and skull shapes than their counterparts in the Northern hemisphere.

Eventually, the researchers concluded that the discovered whale was in fact a different species. Its scientific name, Mesoplodon eueu, also reflects Indigenous knowledge. “’Eueu’ means ‘big fish’ in the Khwedam language of the Khoisan peoples of South Africa, where other whales were found that helped distinguish this new species,” explained WDC.

The study authors said the naming of the new species could serve as a testament to how important Indigenous knowledge can be for future discoveries. “Our consultation and involvement with Indigenous peoples offers a model for broadening the cultural scope of the scientific naming process,” said the scientists.

How come scientists are still discovering such big animal species as whales?

The main reason why scientists have only recently discovered this species is that the animal lives more than 6,000 feet below the ocean’s surface and typically feeds at depths of 3,000 feet to avoid predators, reports The Hill.

In addition to that, beaked whales are generally difficult to study because they rarely come to the surface and are hard to tell apart when they do, the study authors explained. The fact that there are few skeletons to study also doesn’t make it easy. According to EcoWatch, of the 23 species in the IUCN Red List, seven of them are listed as “Data Deficient”.

Study source: Proceedings of the Royal Society BSpeciation in the deep: genomics and morphology reveal a new species of beaked whale Mesoplodon eueu

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