First Ever Glimpse Of World's Rarest Omura's Whale

Posted: Nov 2 2015, 11:47pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 3 2015, 4:10pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Rare Omura's Whale Spotted off the Coast of Madagascar
Credit: Salvatore Cerchio

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The elusive whale species has been filmed for the first time ever.

Omura's whale, one of the rarest species of whales, has been spotted off the coast of Madagascar and filmed for the first time ever.

For many years, this mysterious marine mammal has been confused with another whale species Bryde due to its dorsal fins but after analyzing some previous data, marine biologists found that it is actually a distinct species. Very little was known about the whale species until the first ever field observations were made recent years and were published last month in The Royal Society Publishing. The elusive, first ever footage is also a part of the field observation.

“Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura’s whales, but nothing that was confirmed,” said lead author Salvatore Cerchio from Wildlife Conservation Society. “This is the first definitive evidence and detailed descriptions of Omura's whales in the wild and part of what makes this work particularly exciting.”

Cerchio and his colleagues first spotted Omura whale in 2011 off the northwest coast of Madagascare. They also mixed it up with other whale species.

But in recent years, when whales were seen more frequently, scientists observed unique markings – unsymmetrical pigmentation – on the head.

Since 2013, they have observed 44 groups and have collected skin biopsies of 18 adult Omura whales to determine the genetic identity of the species.

Omura whales are small in size and are approximately 33 to 38 feet in length.

"Omura's whales are built for speed,” said Cerchio. “The whales surface briefly and reveal little of their bodies." There right side white and left is darker and these patches and patterns extend from right eye to fin. Overall, the whales are “spectacular animals with long, narrow bodies.”

Despite extensive field observations, scientists are not sure how many Omura whales exist in the region. So far, they have been able to cataloged just 25 individuals.

Cerchio is planning to return to field this month to further study whale’s behavior, vocalizations and population characteristics.

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