The least known species of whale in the world – Omura’s Whales – has been observed off Madagascar.

For a long time these whales were misidentified as Bryde’s whales but old whaling samples and strandings provided genetic data that identified them as a separate species. No live sightings had ever been recorded until now. They are small baleen whales, up to 11.5m in length, with markings on the lower jaw that is unique to the species.

Salvatore Cerchio, who led the research while at the Wildlife Conservation Society (now at New England Aquarium and a guest investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) said:

“Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura’s whales, but nothing that was confirmed. 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.”

The team first saw the whales in 2011 and mistakenly thought they were Brydes whales. Then in 2013 they had more sightings and they noticed the distinctive markings on the jaw that led them to identify them as Omura’s whales. For the last two years they have seen 44 groups of Omura’s whales, identified 25 individuals from photo ID and collected skin biopsy samples from 18 adults.

Click here to read the full journal article that describes the Omura’s whales’ foraging and vocal behaviour and habitat preferences around Madagascar.

Check out the Press Release from WHOI here.

(Image reproduced from Cerchio et al. 2015)