World’s rarest whale documented

First photos of spade-toothed beaked whales taken in New Zealand in 2010

Scientists have proof that the world’s rarest species of whale still exists, though no one has yet reported seeing one alive.

A 17-foot spade-toothed beaked whale (pictured) and her calf beached themselves in New Zealand in 2010 and were misidentified by conservationists as Gray’s beaked whales, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The conservation workers took photos and tissue samples of the whales before burying them on the beach; six months later, the samples were identified at the University of Auckland as those of spade-toothed beaked whales.

The skeletons were exhumed earlier this year, and on Nov. 6 a report of the scientists’ findings was published in the journal Current Biology. The species has previously been identified through skull fragments found in New Zealand in 1872 and in the 1950s, as well as on an island off Chile 26 years ago.

Little is known about the whales—notable for their large, blade-like teeth and resemblance to dolphins—except that they live in the South Pacific Ocean and eat mostly squid.