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Scientists release first video footage of Omura's whale

Omura's whales are a type of rorqual whale, the largest group of baleen whales.

By Brooks Hays

WOODS HOLE, Mass., Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Last month, scientists published the first field observations of the Omura's whale, a rare species scientists had for decades misidentified.

This week, researchers released the first film footage of an Omura's whale swimming off the coast of Madagascar.

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Until recently, Omura's whales had never been seen alive in the wild. Long thought to be a pygmy Bryde's whale, the Omura's whale's unique classification was the result of DNA testing made possible by the odd beaching or entanglement in whalers' nets.

But a decade passed between its official naming and the first official observations. Finally, in 2013, a team of researchers happened upon what turned out to be several groups of Omura's whales swimming off the coast of Madagascar.

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The research team, led by Salvatore Cerchio of the New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was able to collect skin samples to confirm its discovery. Over the course of months of observation, scientists identified 25 different whales.

Omura's whales are a type of rorqual whale, the largest group of baleen whales. They look much like Bryde's whales but are distinguished by markings on their jaw.

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"When we clearly saw that the right jaw was white, and the left jaw was black, we knew that we were on to something very special," Cerchio said. "The only problem was that Omura's whales were not supposed to be in this part of the Indian Ocean. Rather, they should be in the West Pacific, near Thailand and the Philippines."

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The observations of Cerchio and his colleagues were published last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The research team plans to return to the Indian Ocean soon to continue studying the unique species.

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