Recently Revealed

Unknown animals, like nothing ever seen, startle scientists

Two very different kinds of animals have made scientific headlines. One is a new species of beaked whale; the other a microscopic animal whose body form is so unusual that it was placed in its own major group, or phylum.

In 1983, marine biologists discovered the thirty- third animal phylum, Loricifera §. Scientists speculate that loriciferans live in mud between grains of sand, and feed on other microscopic animals §.

The first known loriciferan Pliciloricus enigmatus

Actual size is about one-quarter of a millimeter.
illustration by Carolyn Gast, National Museum of Natural History

Nanaloricus sp.

electron micrograph Robert Higgins and Reinhardt Kristensen

In 1991, Smithsonian and Peruvian scientists described a new species, Mesoplodon peruvianus, a small beaked whale, in which adults reach lengths of just over 12 feet (3.7 m) §. Beaked whales are difficult to study because they live offshore, dive deep, and can stay submerged for up to an hour.

Pygmy beaked whale, Mesoplodon peruvianus

photo © Julio C. Reyes

These small whales are often caught accidentally and sold in local fish markets, where Smithsonian scientist James Mead (who later identified the species) first obtained a skull.

This elusive species has never been seen alive, but an artist's composite illustration gives a glimpse of the whale in its natural habitat.
illustration Pieter Folkens

For more information on whales, take a look at the following:

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)