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World s rarest whale spotted for first time
The spade-toothed whales were initially thought to be Gray's beaked whales, which are pictured here. Photo: New Zealand Government

The world’s rarest whale has been spotted for the first-ever time after washing up on a New Zealand beach.

A mother and her calf were washed up on a New Zealand beach and were initially thought to be Gray’s beaked whales, reports the Daily Telegraph.

However, after a routine DNA analysis, scientists have in fact determined they are Spade-toothed whales, which have never been seen before.

Spade-toothed whales were first discovered in 1872 via bone fragments – and although two partial skulls have since been found they had remained entirely hidden from human view.

The mother and calf were stranded on Opape Beach in December 2010 but a report describing the whales and analysis of their DNA has only just appeared in the November journal of Current Biology.

Dr Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland said: "This is the first time this species — a whale over five meters in length — has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them.

"Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period."

"It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal.”

Dr Constantine said there were many mysteries surrounding marine life.

"It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash ashore. New Zealand is surrounded by massive oceans. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us."

The spade-toothed whale, which was stranded and died on a beach in December 2010. Photo: New Zealand Department of Conservation