LIMA, Peru (AP) _ An unclassified small whale has been discovered in Peru, and scientists at Washington's Smithsonian Institute call it a new species, government and newspaper reports said Saturday.

The whale, dubbed Mesoplodon Peruvianus, belongs to a genus of beaked whales. However, it differs in its relatively short length of 14 to 24 feet, the government gazette El Peruano said.

The Mesoplodon Peruvianus has characteristics similar to other small whales, porpoises and dolphins, the gazette quoted Carlos del Rio, president of the Peruvian National Council of Science and Technology, as saying. He said the whale has never before been classified, according to the report.

Del Rio said the scientific world was first alerted to the possibility of a new species when James G. Mead of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History discovered a skull fragment of the whale on a beach near Lima in 1976.

Mead was not available for comment Saturday.

Del Rio said that since the initial find, a few of the whales have been accidentially caught in fishermen's nets or have washed up on Pacific beaches in central Peru. However, he said none has so far been seen alive in its natural habitat.

The weekly newspaper Lima Times reported that the Smithsonian termed the whale a new species after studies of a carcass of an adult whale, which had been found intact earlier this year.

The Peruvian conservation group Ecco, which participated in the search and classification, said scientists are still unsure why the species has not been spotted elsewhere. Ecco Vice President Tony Luscombe of the United States said the whales may need the cold Pacific currents that wash the shores of Peru and Chile.