Mysterious Sea Creature Washed Ashore on Namibia's Skeleton Coast

PUBLISHED 11 JUN 2018   

Namibia is renowned for its wildlife found roaming the wind-swept dunes, salt pans and desert terrain. But it also has a coastline teaming with marine life, including some unique species that are rarely seen at sea, never mind up close on land. 

The remains of a mysterious sea creature washed up on the shores of the Dorob National Park near Sandwich Harbour last week, leaving marine biologists a little perplexed as to its identity, initially unsure whether it was a dolphin or a whale due to the advanced state of decomposition of the carcass, which made the body appear flat, almost deflated, and "look rather un-whale like."

After closely examining the animal's body and head shape, marine biologists from the Namibia Dolphin Project identified the 6 meter long creature as a Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), an elusive species that is rarely seen in Namibia's waters. According to the Namibia Dolphin Project, thirteen different species of beaked whale can be found in the oceans off Southern Africa, but the research team are confident that the specimen that washed ashore is a Cuvier's beak whale, based on the shape of the head and snout as well as the overall body size. 

 Source | "This is how the body appeared on first sighting. As you can imagine we were a bit baffled but recognised it as a possible beaked whale. The body was really flat, looking almost deflated, which got us wondering, "Where are the bones?"

The NDP research team are only aware of five records of the Cuvier's beaked whale from Namibia with only two since 2000 – all of these were stranded animals. Although Curvier's beaked whales are rarely seen, they are in fact very common and are widely distributed across the world's oceans. The reason they are so elusive is largely due to their unique deep-diving habits, diving down to record-breaking depths that can reach nearly 3,000 metres, where they can remain for more than 2 hours before resurfacing.  As a result, they are typically found in deep oceanic waters.

Because these creatures spend much of their time diving deep beneath the ocean, we don't know very much about them. The research team gathered samples hoping to learn more, but unfortunately, the badly decomposed state of the body made it impossible to conduct a detailed autopsy to determine what it ate or what caused its demise. The badly broken jawbone could hint at the cause, however the researchers say that due to the body's bad state of decomposition, this could have happened after the whale was already dead.