A dolphin with the eyes of a crocodile. That's how two fishermen described the strange creature they came across recently while sailing near Zhoushan in eastern China. 

While the animal might look like some kind of mutant (or Nessie's long-lost cousin), it's actually completely healthy. What you're looking at is a beaked whale: the Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris), to be precise. 

Those bulging "eyes" aren't what they seem, and they actually hold the clue to the creature's identity. Male Blainville's beaked whales have a pair of upward-facing teeth in the bottom jaw, which, believe it or not, are used to attract females. The actual eyes are located much lower down, like the eyes on a right whale. 

(It's also worth repeating here that the correct response when faced with mysterious marine life does not involve poking it with a stick. Should you be lucky enough to encounter a beaked whale, keep your sticks to yourself.)

There are 22 known species of beaked whale, and most of them are rarely seen in the wild. The Blainville's species is one of the more widespread and common beaked whales, found from central California all the way to Japan. But these animals are also deep divers, which makes spotting them difficult. In fact, the record for the deepest dive among mammals belongs to a beaked whale – we're talking almost 10,000ft deep

Those white spots on the whale's side are likely scars from cookiecutter sharks, fellow deep-sea swimmers that the whales encounter on foraging dives for fish and squid. It's also possible they were caused by injuries sustained when males fight amongst themselves. 

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The upward-facing teeth of older whales will sometimes be encrusted with barnacles. Image: Wikimedia Commons 

Some species of beaked whales have yet to be seen alive, and are known only from bones collected from stranded animals. Check out some of their skulls in this cool video from New Zealand's Te Papa museum:


Top header image: Wikimedia Commons 

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