In 2014, a group of researchers caught a glimpse of an unusual whale near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Newport, OR and Hawaii. The animal is about half the length of a gray whale and its head is equipped with a beak-like mouth. Oregon State University researcher Lisa Ballance, who heads the university’s Marine Mammal Institute, is now embarking on an expedition to study this elusive creature.
“The goal of our expedition is to find a very cryptic whale,” said Ballance.
The month-long expedition aboard the research vessel Pacific Storm has been spurred by photos of the animal, which now is assumed to be a beaked whale taken at random by those who were studying the plastic patch area.
“They snapped quick photos with their cell phones. No one knew what they were, and gradually those photographs made their way to us in the Marine Mammal Institute,” said Ballance. “If you imagine a bottlenose dolphin, they have a nose like that, but they’re very deep divers. They’re oceanic. They are not social. They’re shy of ships so not much is known about them.”
The researchers aboard Pacific Storm will use various techniques, such as high-power binoculars and acoustic recorders to locate the whale. They are hoping to obtain a DNA sample to identify the animal. The team will document their expedition online.
“By knowing more about what’s out there and by knowing where they are,” said Ballance, “we can better understand how our impacts might negatively affect those animals and what we can do about it.”