First-Ever Field Observations of Elusive Omura's Whale Recorded in Galapagos

First Posted: Oct 23, 2015 09:39 AM EDT

Scientists have made the first-ever field observations of one of the rarest whales in the world: Omura's whales. They spotted these unusual whales off of the coast of Madagascar, revealing a bit more about this species.

For many years, Omura's whales were misidentified as Bryde's whales due to their similar appearance. Both of these species are small, tropical baleen whales with comparable dorsal fins. However, Omura's whales are slightly smaller in size and have unique markings with a lower jaw that is white on the right side and dark on the left.

In 2003, researchers used genetic data from samples obtained from old whaling expeditions to determine that Omura's whales were actually a distinct species. However, there had been no confirmed records of sightings in the wild until now.

"Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura's whales, but nothing that was confirmed," said Salvatore Cerchio, one of the researchers, in a news release. "They appear to occur in remote regions 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."

Over a two-year period, the researchers observed 44 groups of these whales, and were even able to collect skin biopsies from 18 adult whales. They also observed four mothers with young calves and recorded song-like vocalizations.

These findings reveal a bit more about this elusive whale. Currently, researchers are hoping to produce the first estimate of abundance for any population of Omura's whales with the work off Madagascar.

The findings are published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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