In 2003, scientists identified a rare and distinct species of whale — known as Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) — using DNA found in several dead specimens from around the world.
From these specimens, scientists were able to determine that the unique species ranged in length from 33 to 38 feet (10 to 11.6 meters), had deep grooves along their throats and were unevenly colored.
Until recently, however, many people believed that Omura’s whales were extinct because no confirmed sighting of a living specimen had ever been made. But all that changed recently when Dr. Salvatore Cerchio and his international team of whale biologists identified a pod of Omura’s whales off the coast of Madagascar, giving us the first-ever images and video of the rare species.
Check out the video below to see the world’s rarest whale caught on camera…
To make sure that the whales they found were in fact Omura’s whales, Cerchio and his team collected a number of skin samples. The samples were then sent to a lab at Northern Michigan University (NMU), where the DNA signature was matched with the original samples found in 2003.
In total, Cerchio’s team has identified 25 individual Omura’s whales, four of which are mothers with young calves.
With help from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Cerchio and his colleagues hope to continue to study the behavior and population characteristics of the Omura’s whales, as well as preserve and grow the current population of the species.
Learn more about Omura’s whales here.