Just a little over a decade ago, scientists didn’t know the Omura’s whale even existed. Even after they used genetic samples to determine the animals are in fact their own species, the whale remained elusive–until now. An international team of biologists captured the stunning creatures on video off the coast of Madagascar.
“Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura’s whales, but nothing that was confirmed,” Salvatore Cerchio, the marine mammal biologist who headed up the research team, said in a statement. “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 feet to 38 feet—and do not put up a prominent blow.” In comparison, a blue whale can be as long as 100 feet.
After some unexpected sightings of the whales in the Indian Ocean in 2013, researchers focused on the area and eventually observed 44 groups of Omura’s whales. They were able to collect specimens from 18 adult whales and photographed 25 of the animals. Their findings were recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“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,” said Cerchio, who led the research while working at the Wildlife Conservation Society. He now works at the New England Aquarium and is a guest investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.