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Rare Beaked Whale With Extra Teeth Washes Up On South Australian Beach, Dentition Baffles Scientists

First Posted: May 16, 2016 08:49 AM EDT
Beached Whale (Mesoplodon Grayi)
Image of an adult female whale that was stranded and died on Sunset Beach at Port Waikato on 13 January 2011. It was believed to be a Gray's beaked whale (Mesoplodon grayi).The end of this whale's beak was buried in the sand, so it was longer than it appears here. Avenue/Wikimedia Commons

A rare beaked whale that washed up on the Waitpinga Beach in South Australia has reportedly left scientists scratching their heads. The whale was found to possess two mysterious extra teeth.

According to a report, the young female whale was dead by the time it was found on the Waitpinga Beach, which is located close to the tourist town of Victor Harbor. A team from the South Australian Museum in Adelaide reached the spot to examine the mammal.

"As we were doing the dissection, after we'd done our measurements and photos, we started to the look at the jaws because that's one of the distinctive parts of a beaked whale, "said Dr Catherine Kemper, senior research scientist. "They were very odd. I didn't know what it was, because these teeth were something I had never seen before. My mind was thinking, 'do we have something new here?'". Female whales do not generally have teeth erupted above the jaw line, but the newly found whale had two small and pointy fangs.

The scientists brought back the whale carcass to the museum's maceration center to analyze it in more depth. The skull of the marine mammal was stripped and cleaned by bacteria in vats of warm water. On closer observation of the teeth, the researchers made a surprising discovery; they had found a Hector's beaked whale, making it only the third such specimen collected in South Australia. However, the researchers could not find any plausible answers to explain the two mysterious vestigial teeth. The experts suggest that the extra teeth are not a deformity but actually an evolutionary throwback.

Currently, the beaked whale has been cleaned and catalogued by the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, and researchers are observing the specimen further to see if they can know more about the elusive species of whales. More information will also enable the scientists to figure out ways to conserve the species.

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