The tree whales that are potentially a new species. Navy photo

Researchers funded by the Naval Sea Systems Command believe they have discovered a new species of beaked whale in the waters off Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

NAVSEA funded the expedition to determine the source of unique beaked whale sounds near a Navy test area in Southern California as part of the Navy’s environmental protection efforts.

The sounds were thought to have come from a Perrin’s beaked whale, but researchers encountered three animals that do not look or sound like any known beaked whale species.

The physical characteristics of the three whales do not match photographs or published descriptions of known species. The researchers collected DNA from water samples for evaluation at a genetics laboratory for confirmation that the whales are a new species.

“This expedition set out to link a known vocalization to a species of beaked whale that was previously described from stranded animals in southern California. Instead, we may have discovered an entirely new species of beaked whale with a new type of vocalization, which is astonishing,” said Dr. Elizabeth Henderson, a marine researcher from the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific in San Diego.

NAVSEA’s monitoring program, a part of the Navy’s environmental protection efforts, observes the movements of protected marine species in and around Navy testing locations in an effort to better understand how Navy activities affect their well-being. The latest research off Baja was undertaken in collaboration with Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas.

“This exciting discovery improves the Navy’s ability to monitor the impacts of Navy testing on the marine environment while also demonstrating our continued stewardship of these waters,” said Benjamin Colbert, NAVSEA monitoring program manager

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.