Rare 'tail slapping' whale sighting at Scott Base

Arnoux beaked whales at the Ross Ice Shelf (Karl Johnson)
Arnoux beaked whales at the Ross Ice Shelf (Karl Johnson)

Kiwis working at Scott Base, the New Zealand station in the Antarctic, were treated to a rare display this week as nine whales put on an "exuberant" tail-slapping display right outside their window.

The Arnoux beaked whales breached at the Ross Ice Shelf in McMurdo Sound, leaping clear of the water in front the cameras of Antarctica New Zealand employees Andy Waters and Karl Johnson.

Thick sea ice has recently moved out of the area, leaving panoramic views of the open ocean.

A marine mammal expert at the University of Canterbury, Dr Regina Eisert, has studied the photos and identified the animals as the rare Arnoux beaked whale.

"Beaked whales are the 'mystery' whales and sightings are few and far between. It's very exciting to have them show up right outside Scott Base," she says.

"This is a very special, scientifically significant sighting. People just normally don't get to see them."

The question is now whether the whales are searching for new feeding grounds, opening the possibility of scientific studies inside the Antarctic ecosystem.

Beaked whales grow up to 9.75 metres long and live in the South Pacific and Southern oceans. They are classified as toothed whales and share connections with killer whales and sperm whales.