Discovery of a new whale from indigenous knowledge

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An international research team’s identification of a new whale species, achieved through a combination of Maori knowledge, morphological and genomic studies, has been named one of the top 10 marine discoveries of the past year. .

Studies initiated by Maori whale expert Ramari Stewart have resolved a decades-long dispute in marine research circles, definitively distinguishing an elusive cetacean from the southern hemisphere of True’s Beaked Whale North.

When a dead female washed up on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island in 2011, Ms Stewart recognized the creature as unique. She recovered the skeleton, now an exhibit at the National Museum in Wellington, and agitated for further research into the whale and its state of preservation.

A decade later, a team of 33 scientists from 11 countries confirmed their assessment in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The 2011 specimen is the “holotype” or single specimen on which the description of the new species is based.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis, skull studies and whole-genome comparisons of two individuals – one from each hemisphere – overturned a determination from the 1980s that the two groups belonged to the same species. On the contrary, they had diverged between 500,000 and 2 million years ago.

The paper’s lead author, University of Auckland molecular ecologist Emma Carroll, said the origin of the species was unclear. One possibility was that whales inhabited equatorial regions during a glacial cycle when tropical waters were cooler. “When the temperate waters began to move away from the equator, [perhaps] people just started moving with them.

It was one of many mysteries surrounding beaked whales, the deepest diving mammals in the world, which can descend up to 3,000 meters for more than an hour. “We can’t even do that, with all of our technology and everything,” Dr. Carroll said. “These animals are amazing.”

The new species Ramari’s beaked whale, is the first cetacean named after an indigenous woman. Biodiversity research center LifeWatch Belgium has proclaimed it is one of the “10 Remarkable New Marine Species” as of 2021 along with a crustacean called the “balloon-backed isopod”, a deep-sea octopus nicknamed “the dumbo emperor” and a fish named “Yokozuna slickhead “.

“The discovery, description and naming of this new species is a great example of the impact that indigenous culture and science can have when combined,” LifeWatch said.

Ms. Stewart gained an in-depth understanding of cetacean behavior and whale migration routes from Maori elders and their oral histories. At the age of 10, she was recognized as a “whale rider” with a special kinship with marine mammals, according to geographic new zealand.

She has led scientific expeditions, published articles in journals, and developed techniques for preparing whale bones for research and display, and is credited with preserving the world’s only skeletal remains of an entire whale family. killer whales.

In 2020, she was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for her research and recovery of whale bones. “Ms. Stewart continues to teach traditional Maori recovery methods to me [tribes]ensuring that its knowledge is preserved for future generations,” said testimony Remarks.

In one video produced to mark the discovery of the new species, Ms Stewart hailed the growing recognition of mātauranga Maori or indigenous knowledge within western science. “The two can work together, but rather than… taking Indigenous practitioners, taking their knowledge, it’s better that we both sit at the table and contribute.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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