South Dakota Tech grad student finds rare whale
Maggie Hart, a South Dakota School of Mines and Technology paleontology student, recently found a rare, beaked whale that washed ashore on St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia.
At the time of her discovery in late July, Hart, a masters degree candidate from Brea, Calif., was working on the St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program. In her studies of sea turtles, Hart is collaborating with Mike Knell of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Knell also is a Tech paleontology graduate student. Their work augments studies of fossil sea turtles found in South Dakota.
Hart measured the 13-foot whale, photographed it and collected its skull for identification by Dr. James Mead at The Smithsonian Institutions Museum of Natural History. He identified it as a Sowerbys beaked whale, probably a yearling female. The Smithsonian will retain the whales skull for confirmation and to serve as a voucher specimen for this rare species distribution.
Almost nothing is known about the natural history of the Sowerbys beaked whale. They reach a length of approximately 18 feet long, travel in pods of up to 10 and presumably eat small fish and squid.
Sowerbys are the most northerly distributed beaked whale, living in the North Atlantic, from Massachusetts to Labrador, eastward to Iceland, the British Isles and western Europe. This is only the thirteenth Sowerbys stranding documented in the western Atlantic. Prior to this, a stranding on the Gulf Coast of Florida was the only sighting in the temperate western Atlantic.
The St. Catherines Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program is an example of Tech students combining classroom and real-world experiences to add to the body of scientific knowledge.
Steve Buchholz | EurekAlert!
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