Beaked Whale Photos.

Fri 4 Dec 2015 05:16
The images on this page were all taken by me, Sara Xavier, and I claim copyright. If you are interested in using them, or wish to view the full size images, you can contact me on sxavier at hotmail dot co dot uk.

Beaked Whale breaching. You can see her distinctive throat grooves. They have these because they suck in their food, thluup!

We had the amazing privilege of seeing a beaked whale whilst on passage from Vanuatu. These whales are rarely seen at sea, most of the information on them seems to have come from strandings. I was just coming up on deck to scan for ships when I saw a patch of foam quite close to the boat, I thought maybe a dolphin had breached, leaving a splash, so I watched a while to see him come up for air. Instead of a dolphin something much bigger appeared, breaching in a series of half a dozen arcing leaps, breaking completely clear of the water. 

She had a beak, like a dolphin, but her dorsal fin was much further back than on a dolphin and she had small flippers. I say she because I didn’t see any sign of teeth, the males tend to have a pair of teeth, which can be hard to spot, but also have scarring from where other males have scraped them with their teeth. At first glance I thought she was spotted then realised that the lighter spots were Cookie Cutter scars ( a Cookie Cutter Sharks take ice cream scoop sized bites of flesh. It must be agonising!). Some of the scars were still healing and you could see the indentation from where the flesh hadn’t yet filled back in. She must have been a fully grown adult by the number of scars she had.

I dodged back down the companion way, calling Phil and grabbing my camera and was back up in time to catch her leaping again:

In these pictures her head is increasingly turned away from us. You can see a dark smudge around her eye and that she is lighter on her belly and on her throat. What looks like a dark shadow above her beak is the top half of her beak:

She was 4 or 5 meters long. It’s hard to judge exactly when you see her so quickly. This shot shows her splash after another breach, but has the bow of our boat in the picture to give some scale. The splash was about 10m off the bow in this shot:

We were at 25:45.4S 157:38.8E, travelling on a course of 217 °T, across the Coral Sea. She came across our bow from port to starboard, so travelling roughly on a course of 250 °T. 

Here’s a sequence from another breach, with her travelling away from us:

What kind of beaked whale was she? Well, we’ve had many discussions back and forth and spent much time reading our Shirihai and Jarrett marine mammals guide. We thought at first she was a Pygmy Beaked Whale, but she was maybe a bit big and they haven't been known so far West as we were, through they are around New Zealand. I think a Hectors, but without the whitish collar. Phil thinks she may be a Gray’s or a Blainville’s. We don’t know, we’re hoping someone will tell us! We’ll be contacting some whale experts to see if they can help.