A New Species of Whale

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Questions Surrounding a New Species of Whale


During the month of September in 1998 an amazing and unique discovery was found by a group of scientists when they went out to the Sea of Japan. There, they collected the carcass of a medium sized baleen whale. This was the ninth specimen needed to complete the research on discovering this new species. This species of the baleen whale did resemble the fin whale, another species of the baleen whale. However, this carcass was much smaller in size. After comparing DNA data of the external morphology, osteology, and mitochondrial, scientists were able to classify all they found into a new and different species. This new species, which was named after a Japanese cetologist, H. Omura, has a unique cranial morphology and a small number of baleen plates. Another wonderful discovery was made while doing this research as well, that was that one of the species of baleen whale could actually be classified into two unique species, Eden’s whale and Bryde’s whale. There were thought to be only five species of the baleen whale. But after the new discovery was made the number had risen to eight.

This finding, however, raises many questions about animal’s rights. In order for the scientists to get information on this new species they had to murder nine other whales, one ‘accidentally.’ This finding was a great feat for science because it is important to learn as much as we can about a species before they become extinct. The rate in which large aquatic mammals are reaching extinction has been rising. So although there is much to be found and much that has been found about not only the new species of the baleen whale, but also the other two species that have risen to the surface, it was not done without farthing along the extinction process of another species.

The scientists claim that the research necessary to compile all the facts regarding the new species of whale did not start until a ninth whale was accidentally killed. However, there were eight other whales, five females and three males, whose death were not accidental. Who were killed for the sole purpose of scientific information. Whose species could all be in danger of extinction.

This find was seen as extremely important and necessary because of the rate in which large mammals are becoming extinct.

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The blue whale, one of the species of baleen, may be the largest known mammal in existence. The carcass that was found in Japan measured forty feet, making it one of the larger mammals that are still in existence. They have unique traits, as mentioned above, such as their fringed plates, also called baleens, so that they can capture small particles of food unlike toothed whales. These whales also have a unique molecular identity and cranial structure, which sets them apart from other species of mammals. They also have less baleen plates then other baleen whales. The other species of baleen whales include the humpback whale, the fin whale, the sei whale, and the minke whale.

Although this new species was found there is still much to know about the baleen whale. Their habitat, eating habits and reproductive cycle are still in question. There still is much research to be done on these new creatures. It is said that since the discovery has been made that new evidence will arise and museums will look more closely at what they have already collected. But there is still a threat to this species lives. Because there is not much known about the species, how many there are is still in question. Hopefully much of the research that needs to be done will not come on behalf of this whale’s life.

There are currently seventy species of whales that are recognized by scientists. Many of these species have such subtle differences that the human eye cannot see the differences between them.

With the threat of many of these aquatic mammals becoming extinct it is interesting when juxtaposed next to the idea of how research is conducted to find out information on these species, eight whales were murdered in the process of discovering and researching information on this new baleen whale. Some scientists have come forth saying that it was an unnecessary to do so. Though it may have been for a scientific cause, one of the reasons that this discovery was seen as wonderful was that it gave scientists a chance to learn much information about this whale species before the species (like so many others) becomes extinct. However, it does not take away from the hypocrisy in the scientist’s arguments.

Some of the skepticism involved within this discovery comes from James Mead, a curator of marine mammals from the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Mead questions this discovery because he believes that there are at least seven other species of whales that share the same traits, which are believed to be unique in the new species. Before he will accept this discovery as new and unique he believes that there needs to be more careful evaluations done between the differing species in regards to this new one. Joe Roman, a Harvard researcher agrees. He concurs that although the evidence projected in this new discovery is compelling it is not enough. He believes that there still needs to be more studying done before it can officially be classified as a new species. Unfortunately, we have seen what the whales have become victim to in order for research. The skepticism between these two men, though valid, may come at a cost to the whale’s lives.

Some think that this discovery by the National Research Institute of Fisheries Science in Japan has illuminated the idea that biologists, taxonomists, and zoologists still have a lot to gain knowledge of. However rare it is to discover a new species of mammals the work that was embarked on since the discovery has capitulated much that was once unknown in science. It is argued that after this finding there is even more speculation that there may be many species of marine mammals that have not yet been discovered. It is even said that with the abundance of collections from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, though should not be undermined, could be helpful in new discoveries if we did more close examination of these specimens that are kept throughout the world in various museums.

An interesting statement came from an expert at the American Museum of Natural History, which is located in New York. Michael Novacek, an expert in mammalian evolution, said, “Obviously we need to save the whales in general. But our knowledge of which populations are unique and most threatened can only be sustained if we know what those entities are (Holmes 2003)."

But according to a botanist, Bruce Stein, of NatureServe, subdividing species so thinly has the possibility of weakening the conservation endeavors. He claims that, "We want to try to protect the full array of diversity. But we don't want to have things so finely split that it is diverting our attention from those things that are very distinctive (Holmes 2003).”

It seems that much research still needs to be done concerning this new species, and the effects that it can have on other species of whales may not be worth the cost.

Sources


Wada, Shira et al., 2003. “A Newly Discovered Species of Living Baleen Whale.” Nature, v. 426, p278 – 281.

BBC News. 2003. “Whale Species is New to Science.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3284843.stm

CNN. 2003. “New Whale Species May Have Been Found.” http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/science/11/19/japan.whale.ap/

Discovery News. 2003. “Mysterious Whale May be New Species.” http://dsc.discovery.com/news/afp/20031117/newwhale.html

Natural History Museum. 2004. “Discovery of a New Species of Baleen Whale.” http://www.nhm.ac.uk/news/items/science/new_whale.html

Holmes, Bob. 2003. “New Whale Species Found in Museum.” http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/biodiversity/biodiversity.jsp?id=ns99994402


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