Scientists Make First Observations of Rare Omura's Whales

Posted on October 28, 2015

Omura's whale

Researchers have recorded the first field observations of the rare Omura's whales. A group of about 25 whales were observed and photographed off the coast of Madagascar.

Omura's whales were misidentified as Bryde's whales - another small tropical baleen whale - for many years. Omura's are slightly smaller and have unique markings that distinguish them from Bryde's whales. Scientists determined they were a distinct species in 2003 using genetic data from samples obtained from old whaling expeditions.

Salvatore Cerchio, who led the research while at the Wildlife Conservation Society, says in a statement, "Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura's whales, but nothing that was confirmed. They appear to occur in remote regions and are difficult to find at sea because they are small-they range in length from approximately 33 to 38 feet-and do not put up a prominent blow."

Cerchio also says, "What little we knew about these whales previously came primarily from eight specimens of Omura's whales taken in Japanese scientific whaling off the Solomon and Keeling Islands and a couple strandings of dead animals in Japan. 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 is now at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and a guest investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). He recorded this great footage of one of the Omura's whales.

The researchers describe the whales' foraging, habitat and vocal behaviors in a research paper here in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Photo: Cerchio et al. 2015

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