Three unusual beaked whales spotted off the coast of Mexico exhibited a greatly different appearance and sound to the other 23 known varieties. The species is yet to be confirmed as new, but it would mark a significant discovery among giant mammals - showing us that there is much left for us to learn about our oceans.
The team of researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, came upon the strange specimens while tracking a known rare species of beaked whales on on the 17th November near the San Benito Islands, a remote part of Mexico.
"These animals popped to the surface right next to the boat," said Jay Barlow, a marine mammal biologist from the research team.
Barlow and his fellow researchers, led by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, only realised they were potentially looking at a new species when they studied images they had taken later on. They noted a number of peculiarities.
The teeth of the whales were arranged in an unusual way, and analysis of recordings of the whale-calls showed that their sounds were unique. The team are waiting on further evidence when water samples, possibly containing skin cells, are fully analysed by DNA testing. This would provide the confirmation as to whether or not the whales are a new species.
Beaked whales are named after their pointy snouts. They are often hard to study in the wild, being elusive and dwelling in remote waters despite being 5 metres in length. Furthermore, they tend to dive to depths of 915 metres (3,000 feet) when feeding, and only break the surface when they need air. They tend to prefer the deeper waters as they provides protection from killer whales - their main predators.