Rare Omura's whale washed up on Australian beach could solve creature's mysteries

The species was defined in 2003 and only a handful have ever been seen

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The Independent Online

An extremely rare species of whale has been found washed up on an Australian beach, exciting scientists recording the second sighting ever in the country.

The carcass was found in Exmouth, Western Australia, last month on a remote stretch of sand following a tropical cyclone.

Albert Jacob, the state’s environment minister, said the Omura's whale was still a mystery to scientists.

“This find is highly significant for whale scientists in Western Australia and researchers globally because there have not been many recorded sightings of this species so very little is known about it,” he added.

It was the second Omura's whale ever seen in Australia

“Omura’s whale was only described in scientific journals for the first time in 2003 and is apparently restricted to tropical and subtropical waters.”

The species is normally found well to the north of Australia in the western Pacific and eastern Indian oceans.

Research conducted on the whale carcass is hoped to improve identification of the species so its movements can be better understood.

Mr Jacob said: “Scientists know a fair bit about many whale species but this exciting discovery shows there is still so much more to learn in our oceans.”

Before the Omura's whale was classified as a separate species, scientists thought it was a pygmy form of a Bryde's whale

The whale carcass was spotted in the wake of a storm surge caused by Severe Tropical Cyclone Olwyn, which caused extensive wind damage and flooding along the Western Australia coast.

The dead mammal was female and 5.7 metres (almost 19 feet) long, making it a juvenile. Adults reach double that size.

It has now been buried and officials plan to dig the skeleton up in several years’ time for further scientific investigation and possibly for public display in museums.

Local wildlife staff initially had difficulty identifying the Omura’s whale and resorted to DNA profiling.

The species has a streamlined body shape and unique skeletal features distinguishing it from other whales, including 53 vertebrae and four digits, instead of the usual five, on each pectoral fin.

The whale was found hundreds of miles north of Perth

Because of the Omura’s appearance, they are frequently wrongly identified as fin or Bryde’s whales.

It has only recently been classified as a separate species and only a dozen or so specimens have been genetically confirmed to be Omura's whales.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation charity, “next to nothing” is known about their behaviour but they are thought to swim as solitary individuals or in pairs.

The number of them Omura’s whales in existence is also a mystery.