Rare Omura’s whale spotted off Australia
A rarely seen Omura’s whale has been spotted on Australia‘s Great Barrier Reef, officials said Thursday, one of the few sightings globally of a species that scientists know little about.
The whale was seen and photographed by a snorkelling boat operator, who submitted the images to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
They were then sent to an expert in Madagascar, who confirmed it was an Omura’s whale.
“This is the first recorded sighting of an Omura whale in the Great Barrier Reef,” said the marine park authority’s sightings network manager Chris Jones.
“The species is rarely seen — it’s so rare we needed to track down an expert to confirm the identity of this enigmatic whale.”
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, only a handful of specimens have been found before, including in the Sea of Japan and the Solomon Sea.
They were only discovered in 2003 by Japanese researchers and named in honour of Hideo Omura, one of the top names in Japanese whale research in the 1960s and 70s.
Genetic data confirmed the whale as its own species in 2006.
There is no population estimate, given the scarcity of information about them, with little known of their ecology and virtually nothing about its reproductive biology.
The animals, which have a streamlined and sleek body shape and several unique skeletal features distinguishing them from other whales, are often incorrectly identified as a small Fin whale or Bryde’s whale.
A dead Omura’s whale washed up on a remote beach near the Western Australian town of Exmouth last year, only the second recorded sighting nationally, according to the state’s environment minister.