Omura’s whale sightings were common last year in Madagascar

A new study from the New England Aquarium has revealed that the Omura’s whale – one of the world’s rarest whale species – have been more visible than usual in recent months.

It had been more than a decade since the New England Aquarium’s Salvatore Cerchio went to Madagascar for a study on coastal dolphins. But his curiosity was most piqued by the Omura’s whale, which he first discovered in 2013. This extremely rare whale had become unexpectedly commonplace last year, as Cerchio’s team had discovered 80 sightings of the animal in 2015.

“When we found them, we thought they were (similar-looking) Bryde’s (whales) in part because they weren’t supposed to be in this area,” Cerchio said in an interview with Fox News. “The known range of Omura’s whales at that point was the western Pacific and the far eastern Indian Ocean off of Australia.”

Cerchio added that several repeated sightings of Omura’s whales, as well as some “pretty” good underwater videos of the animals were what convinced him and his colleagues that they weren’t Bryde’s whales after all. “Once we realized they were Omura’s whales, it was mind boggling because first of all no one had studied these animals,” he continued. “No had seen them or documented them in the wild and they were not supposed to be in Madagascar. The work that we’ve done has extended their range significantly.”

Video footage of Omura’s whales taken by Cerchio’s team revealed some details on the animals’ feeding habits.

The whales, according to the team’s findings, come with unusual throat pleats that expand so they can consume large amounts of water and krill. The whales then use their baleen to catch the food, then expel the water and swallow it up. “These throat pleats are common to the rorqual family of whales which includes the giant blue whales and the acrobatic humpbacks,” Cerchio explained.

Also discovered were five mother/calf pairs of Omura’s whales, the highest number Cerchio had seen thus far. This suggests that the whale population may indeed be resident to Madagascar, or may at least have the same habitat at certain times of the year.