First footage of mysterious whales astounds scientists

A pod of extremely rare whales has been captured on camera underwater for the first time, exciting researchers - many of whom have never seen them in real life.

The deep-diving True's beaked whale pod, which included a calf, will help unlock the secrets of the animals that spend 92 percent of their time underwater.

Spotted near the Canary Islands, the encounter will fill in some major knowledge gaps for the international team which filmed it including their distinct colourations.

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A mother and calf (Ida Eriksson / Supplied)

It'll also help researchers spot the whales at sea, which helps in understanding their range and their numbers.

The whales are part of the Ziphiidae family - the second-largest family of cetaceans - but little is known about many of the 22 species of beaked whales.

They don't exude the showmanship of some of their relatives, including dolphins and porpoises, and aren't attracted to boats, making them hard to find.

But they are extraordinary creatures which live far offshore and break diving records, feeding up to three kilometres down for up to two hours at a time.

Those deep dives are then followed by rest, shorter and shallower dives and brief surfacing periods - the behaviour the researchers managed to capture.

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The whales were coming up for air when they were filmed (Roland Edler / Supplied)

They're known to be in the North Atlantic and in the Southern Hemisphere, but not many places in between.

Researchers aren't sure whether those are the only places they exist or if it is a result of the lack of data on the whales.

But they believe their find may prove the Canary Islands and the Azores archipelago near Portugal as a hotspot for the whales.

The True's beaked whale breaching (Dylan Walker / Supplied)
The True's beaked whale breaching (Dylan Walker / Supplied)

While there is much to learn about the True's beaked whale, they face the same threats as all whales including mass strandings relating to naval exercises, eating plastic left to float in oceans and getting tangled in fishing gear, the researchers write.

The findings were published in journal Peer J on Wednesday.