You know belugas, blue whales, humpback whales and orcas, but have you ever heard of Omura whales? It’s OK. Scientists hadn’t heard of it either until 2003, and the species eluded extensive study until this year.
A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Statement of October 22 details a new study on whales and their behavior. He describes them as “one of the least known whale species in the world”.
Even for people who are not marine biologists, these whales represent a fascinating piece of the puzzle of ocean ecology. We all know about the Save the Whales movement. Research on Omuar’s whales will tell us how rare the species is and whether it should be a focus of conservation efforts.
“This is the first definitive evidence and detailed descriptions of Omura whales in the wild and part of what makes this work particularly exciting,” says Salvatore Cerchio, the lead author of the study. The newspaper appeared in the Open Scientific Journal of the Royal Society earlier this month.
Omura’s whales were originally confused with Bryde’s whales until genetic testing in 2003 determined that they are a separate species. They live off Madagascar and look slightly different from the better known Bryde’s whales. They are a bit smaller and have jaw markings that are dark on the left side and white on the right.
Cerchio and a team of researchers spent two years observing the whales and their calves, recording their vocalizations and collecting skin biopsies for DNA analysis. DNA work confirmed the species, and photographic cataloging identified 25 individual whales.
Omura whales can reach up to 38 feet (11.5 meters) in length, which is quite small compared to larger species like blue whales, which can reach up to 100 feet (30 meters) . This size makes them difficult to track in the wild. A new round of studies are planned later this year to learn more about the whales’ vocalizations, behavior and population size.
Omura’s whales aren’t the only surprising species to appear on scientists’ radars recently. Researchers have identified ahiding in plain sight, much like those whales. It shows how even well-studied corners of the globe can still offer biological mysteries.