Rare find washed up the first in 122 years

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

IT HAS been 122 years since anyone in Australia has seen stranded the rare species of whale found beached at The Pass in Byron Bay yesterday.

So rare are these beaked whales that there have been only a handful of recorded sightings in the world, and yesterday seasoned researchers were forced to consult their textbooks to identify it.

"It doesn't fit any species in the book. We're not absolutely certain she is a Longman's beaked whale, but she's certainly a beaked whale," Southern Cross University whale researcher Dan Burns said.

"It's extremely rare to see one of these.

"There hasn't been one stranded since 1882 at Mackay."

The six-metre whale usually lives 25 kilometres offshore, but yesterday was spotted thrashing on the rocks down from Fisherman's Lookout at around 8am.

The whale, believed to be an elderly female weighing over a tonne, had cloudy eyes and was close to death when a group of about 20 swimmers tried to save her by pushing her back out to sea, only to find the whale washed back on the incoming tide 30 minutes later.

The fifth whale stranding along the East Coast this year is causing concern among whale researchers.

"I worry that we (humans) are having an impact on them, whether it's caused by increased pollution, viruses or increased numbers of people using the water for fishing or shipping," Dan Burns said.

A team of trained whale rescuers has been established by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Cape Byron Marine Park Authority to deal with the increase.

While onlookers and researchers lamented the whale's demise yesterday, the scientific discoveries offered by her death may protect her species in the future.

"It's an important scientific discovery. There's only one skull of a Longman's beaked whale in Australia to compare this to," Mr Burns said.

"We will do an autopsy and take genetic samples from this whale, and from now on identification of this species can be done through DNA comparison instead of looking up the species and trying to match it to pictures in a book."



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