By James Paladino ( | First Posted: Nov 06, 2012 05:41 PM EST

The spade-toothed beaked whale is known as Mesoplodon traversii (Photo : Reuters)

Two rare spade-toothed beaked whales, a mother and her son, washed ashore New Zealand's Opape Beach in 2010 and provided scientists with a glimpse at a species previously thought to be extinct.

University of Auckland's Rochelle Constantine and her team initially thought the specimen was a Grey beaked whale, but DNA tests betrayed their initial assumptions.

"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," said Constantine.

She adds, "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."

The researcher was "surprised to find that they were spade-toothed beaked whales" and "ran the samples a few times to make sure before [telling] everyone."

The scientist suggests that the species "lives and dies in the deep ocean waters," which accounts for the rarity of the whale.

"New Zealand is surrounded by massive ocean waters. There is a lot of marine life that remains unknown to us."

Spade-toothed beaked whale bones were first discovered in 1872, but scientists have had to make due with a vacuum of fresh information about the creature 1950 and 1986, during which years partial skulls were found in New Zealand and Chile, respectively.

Constantine notes that "based on the scarcity of records and the total absence of previous sightings, this species is the least known species of the whale and one of the world's rarest living animals."

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