Using Ralf Keifner's 'Whales and Dolphins: Cetacean World Guide', here is some information on Shepherd's Beaked Whale.
It seems that this whale is extremely poorly known, even amongst the beaked whales which are poorly understood but are believed to comprise about twenty species. It was first described in 1933 and christened Tasmacetus shepherdi, literally translated as 'Whale from the Tasmanian Sea', and named after the curator of New Zealand Museum who first described the specimen. It is exceptionally rare and is known from about 20 strandings, mostly in New Zealand, and a single sighting at sea.
The male animal grows up to 7m in length with the female slightly shorter. It is a dark-grey to black colour on the topside with a white underside and has a quite distinctive colour separation. Interestingly it is the only species of beaked whale with fully developed sets of teeth in both jaws in both sexes, as with most beaked whales only the male has well developed teeth. From an autopsy on another specimen it appears that it tends to feed on deep-water fish rather than squid or crustaceans though with only one specimen examined this may not be a reliable indicator of the diet of Shepherd's Beaked Whale. Strandings have also been reported in Chile and Argentina so it seems this whale thrives in the cold-temperate deep waters in the Southern Hemisphere.
It seems that quite a few unusual beaked whales have been stranded in the last year. If anyone is interested, here are reports linking to finds of a specimen of Longman's Beaked Whale in Japan last December:
I have been witness to one whale stranding that took place on the 20/03/2001 at a place called Sandwich Bay which is on the extreme South East tip of England and about ten miles from where I live. An immature Humpback Whale had driven itself ashore and was in an extremely poor condition. Apparantly it was so sick and riddled with parasites that the animal had become totally disorientated and had swum up the English Channel heading towards the North Sea before beaching itself. Humpbacks are practically unknown from our waters, and I believe that this was the first stranding known from the UK. Unfortunately the poor thing could not be saved and it had to be destroyed, the body was hauled onto a low load truck to be disposed of at a landfill site.
Here is a photo of the animal I took at Sandwich Bay shortly before the carcass was carried off:
Yes, it was very sad. When I turned up the whale had already been put down, something I was pleased about as I really would not have wanted to see that happen. Apparently it was given a lethal injection by some vet who had been sent down from London. I don't know what the compound was he used but it was so lethal that he told me that a pinprick of the stuff could kill a human. I'm sure he was not exaggerating either.
It was a weird experience going to see this dead whale; it was a once-in-a lifetime event on my doorstep so I had to go, yet very sad, and dare I say it, slightly upsetting.
Interesting news from the BBC. Another brand new species of whale has just been announced following the publication of reports of a specimen that was washed up in Japan in 1998. It has been named Balaenoptera omurai and is believed to be close cousin of the Blue Whale. Link here: