Extraordinarily Rare Whale Sighting – Omura’s Whale (Balaenoptera omurai)

While MERS Director Heidi Krajewsky and her husband Stephen Anstee were travelling on board SV Narama in New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific earlier this year, they encountered an extraordinarily rare and exciting whale.

Omura's nr. 1

Omura’s Whale: Note the white lower jaw and lack of extra rostral ridges. Click to enlarge. © 2012 Heidi Krajewsky

At the time we took this for a Bryde’s Whale but the field characters just didn’t fit; this animal does not have three rostral ridges, which a Bryde’s does.

After studying the photos and sending them to other taxonomists for confirmation we can say that this was indeed an Omura’s Whale (Balaenoptera omurai).  Note the white lower jaw similar to a Fin Whale; the somewhat erect and hooked dorsal fin which does not occur in Fin Whales.

Omura's nr 2

Omura’s Whale: Note the erect, hooked dorsal fin. This animal has many Cookiecutter Shark scars, which means it is likely an older animal. Click to enlarge. © 2012 Heidi Krajewsky

Very little is known about this species which was only first described in 2003 (Wada et al. 2003).

The genetic identity was determined from nine specimens.   Of the nine whales, one was a whale stranded in the southern Sea of Japan near Oyama in 1998; and eight were obtained under “scientific permit” for Bryde’ Whales. Of these eight, six whales were taken in the Solomon Sea in 1976 (Ohsumi 1978)  and two from near the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in 1978 (Ohsumi 1980) . Source: ICUN Red List of Threatened Species.

The largest female of these nine whales was 11.5 m and the largest male was 9.6 m.

Omura's nr. 3

Omura’s Whale: Note the blow hole and dorsal fin above the surface at the same time, which indicates that this animal is too small to be an adult Fin Whale. Click to enlarge. © 2012 Heidi Krajewsky

Our sighting was inside the extensive barrier reef system in southern New Caledonia and is the first recorded sighting for an Omura’s Whale in this area. Exact coordinates of the sighting are 22 30.0 S 166 59.6 E.

Image

Red marker shows the Omura’s sighting by Krajewsky/Anstee relative to previously known Omura’s whale locations. Click to see in Google Maps.

With great thanks for feedback on taxonomy:

Thomas A. Jefferson
Southwest Fisheries Science Center
National Marine Fisheries Service

Robert L. Pitman
Protected Resources Division; Southwest Fisheries Science Center
National Marine Fisheries Service

Claire Garrigue
Opération Cétacés / Operation Cetacean
New Caledonia

And to fellow MERS Director Jared Towers who was the first to say “I think this could be an Omura’s”!

References:

  • Ohsumi, S. 1978. Provisional report on the Bryde’s whales caught under special permit in the Southern Hemisphere. Rep. int. Whal. Commn 28:281-7.
  • Ohsumi, S. 1980. Population study of the Bryde’s whale in the Southern Hemisphere under scientific permit in the three seasons, 1976/77-1978/99. Rep int. Whal. Commun 30: 319-31.
  • Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr., R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urbán, J. & Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Balaenoptera omurai. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2.
  • Shiro Wada, Masayuki Oishi, Tadasu K. Yamada; 2003. A newly discovered species of living baleen whale. 426: 278-281.

About MERS

We are a non-profit organization dedication to promoting conservation and understanding of marine ecosystems through scientific research and environmental education.
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One Response to Extraordinarily Rare Whale Sighting – Omura’s Whale (Balaenoptera omurai)

  1. Pingback: Great Shearwater Sightings | Marine Education and Research Society

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