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Mysterious Omura’s Whale Filmed for the First Time

posted: 11/02/15
by: Richard Farrell
Omura's Whale
YOUTUBE/NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM/SALVATORE CERCHIO

A kind of J.D. Salinger of the marine world was spotted in waters off the coast of Madagascar, when scientists there captured the first live footage of the elusive Omura's whale.

Until now, the small -- about 33 to 38 feet long -- tropical marine mammal had been little seen in the wild, known only from sporadic strandings on shore and scant genetic data obtained in 2003 from earlier Japanese whaling expeditions.

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Forty-four groups of Omura's whale were documented over the course of two years by a team of researchers led by Salvatore Cerchio, a guest investigator with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a staff member at the New England Aquarium.

Cerchio is the lead author of a study on the team's findings that has been 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," Cerchio said in a press release.

The researcher and his team have been studying marine mammals off Madagascar since 2007. Technically, they first saw Omura's whales there in 2011. At the time, however, they believed they were looking at Bryde's whales, which, while slightly bigger, look a lot like Omura's.

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But, in 2013, the team changed study areas and began spotting more of the whales. This time, they got a better look at distinctive markings -- a jaw that's white on one side and dark on the other -- that told them they might be seeing Omura's whales and not Bryde's.

The researchers took skin biopsies from 18 adults, and DNA testing confirmed that the whales were indeed Omura's whales.

The team went on to document the animal's foraging behavior, habitat preferences, and vocalizations. The vocalizations include those from four mothers with young calves in tow.

Still unknown is just how rare Omura's whales actually are. Cerchio hopes to learn more about the animal's population density, as well as its behavior and vocalizations, when he returns to Madagascar this month to make more observations.

This article originally appeared on Discovery News

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