Tag Archives: whale

First Footage Ever of the Omura’s Whale, One of the Rarest in the World

One of the most elusive whales in the world has been caught on camera. An international team of researchers made the first field observations of Omura’s whales off the coast of Madagascar.

For years, the species was mistaken for Bryde’s whales because of their similar appearances, both as small tropical baleen whales with like dorsal fins. But Omura’s whales are smaller in size and have unique markings on the jaw that are white on the right side and dark on the left.

In 2003, genetic data confirmed that the Omura’s whales were a distinct species, but there have been no confirmed sightings of the animal in the wild.

Until now, that is.

So little is known about Omura’s whales that scientists are unsure about how many of the species exist. But the researchers who observed the whale for the first time in the wild published a paper in the Royal Society Open Science journal that described the whale’s foraging and vocal behaviors, as well as habitat preferences in the shallow waters of coastal Madagascar.

The scientists have been conducting field research off the northwest coast of Madagascar since 2007 and first spotted an Omura’s whale in 2011, but misidentified it as a Bryde’s whale. After moving study areas in 2013, more sightings occurred and the team noticed the whales’ unique markings, leading them to believe they might be Omura’s whales.

Photo by Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015
Photo by Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015

Over two years, the researchers observed 44 groups, including four mothers with young calves. They collected skin biopsies from 18 adult whales, which confirmed the whales’ were, in fact, Omura’s whales, and cataloged approximately 25 individuals with photographs. The team also used hydrophones to record song-like vocalizations that may indicate reproductive behavior.

The study’s lead author Salvatore Cerchio says:

“What little we knew about these whales previously came primarily from eight specimens of Omura’s whales taken in Japanese scientific whaling…and a couple strandings of dead animals in Japan. This is the first definitive evidence and detailed descriptions of Omura’s whales in the wild and part of what makes this work particularly exciting…They appear to occur in remote regions and are difficult to find at sea because they are small–they range in length from approximately 33 to 38 feet–and do not put up a prominent blow.”

Cerchio returned to the field in November to further study the whales’ behavior, vocalizations and population characteristics. He hopes to produce the first estimate for any population of Omura’s whales with this work.

Featured image from Salvatore Cerchio et al. 2015

With Our Planet’s Melting Arctic Comes New Threats to Whales

Climate change is the latest accomplice to whale hunting: as temperatures rise and sea ice melts, it opens more paths for people to find and kill whales.

This summer marked the first time that an Icelandic whaling vessel was able to travel through the Arctic’s Northeast Passage and hunt endangered fin whales. Near record-low numbers of sea ice opened the passageway, which is not normally accessible to larger vessels.

Ignoring an international ban on hunting these endangered whales, the vessel carried 1,800 tons of frozen fin whale meat to sell in Japan. It left Tromso, Norway on August 1 and arrived in Osaka, Japan later that month with almost 40% of the whale meat the entire country consumes annually in just one shipment.

This is a detrimental in several ways. First, a northern route will allow whaling vessels a shorter path to Japan, their main buyer. Second, it raises concerns for activist groups like Sea Shepherd who focus mostly in the Indian and Southern Oceans and can’t expand north.

Sea Shepherd’s founder Captain Paul Watson told TakePart:

“We are talking with the Russians to see if we can convince them to disallow future transports of whale meat through the Northeastern passage.”

Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by NOAA PMEL / CC BY-SA 2.0

Featured image by Dagur Brynjólfsson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Blue Whale Sighting in English Waters is the First Since Near Extinction

The world’s largest animal, the blue whale, has been seen in English waters for the first time since the 1900s.

The creature was photographed 250 miles from the coast by scientists aboard the RRS James Cook, which is studying marine life in the Whittard Canyon off England’s south-west coast. Oceanographers believe the photos are the first to show a blue whale in the region since in the early 20th century when they were nearly hunted to extinction in the north-east Atlantic.

The crew captured two photos, one showing the glimpse of spray from the whale’s blowhole and another showing its bluish-gray back and tiny dorsal fin. Chief scientist of the expedition from National Oceanography Centre (NOC) Veerle Huvenne says:

“There was huge excitement on board as many people got a glimpse of their first blue whale, but only later did we realize that this is probably the first to be photographed within English waters. The Biscay margin is already recognised as a hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds – our new data further underlines the importance of this area for iconic marine life.”

This sighting, along with others by observers on ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay, indicates the species may be slowly recovering from its near-extinction. Also recorded on expedition were more than 20 fin whales, which are the second largest animal in the world and also endangered.

Photo by National Oceanography Centre
Photo by National Oceanography Centre

Featured image by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

The Beauty of Our Earth

A whale diving into the depths of our planet’s ocean not only shows us the beauty of the world we live in but also the biodiversity of Earth. A great photograph to celebrate the last hours of Earth Day.

Hope you all celebrated our planet today. Again, happy Earth Day to all.

Photo by Greenland Travel / CC BY 2.0

Whale Tale, Greenland