After a decade-long hunt and hundreds of papers on what it may really look like, world’s most elusive whale was finally caught on tape. An international team of researchers spotted the Omura’s whale, or the rarest whale on the planet, off the coast of Madagascar.
Researchers noted that the video is the first documented observation of the animal in the wild. So far, the whales were taken for other species including finback whales by both researchers and the public.
Biologists first released a report on Omura’s whale in 2003 when genetic tests showed that it was indeed a distinct species. Yet, samples used in the analysis were taken from dead specimens. So no biologist had the opportunity to observe the whales in the wild.
Parts of dead whales were found washed ashore on Japanese beaches. Other bits were taken from older whaling expeditions. But because of their relatively small size compared with other whales – between 33 and 38 feet – and their discrete nature, live animals remained hidden from the eyes of researchers.
A paper on the discovery was recently published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal. Study authors wrote in the paper that during their decade-long studies they encountered 44 pods off Madagascar. But during the first encounter, which took place in 2001, investigators thought that they must have seen and odd-looking known species, rather than an entirely new animal.
Salvatore Cerchio, lead author of the study and researcher at the New England Aquarium, explained that he and his colleagues didn’t expect to find Omura’s whales in that area of the Indian Ocean. Additionally, the team had scarce data on the animals’ habitat and favorite places to feed.
But as more and more animals were reported in the region, scientists decided to take a closer look. They noted that Omura’s whale has a unique pattern on its jaw and a different pigmentation. In the meantime, 18 DNA tests on skin samples revealed that the whale is a totally different species.
Nevertheless, researchers acknowledge that they know next to nothing about the new species, so they hope to better understand it in future expeditions. The team is especially interested in unique features such as foraging behaviors and bizarre songs coming from mothers and their calves when they communicate.
Biologists also plan to learn how rare the animal really is. So far, they were able to spot and take photos of only 25 specimens.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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