Rare whale spotted in Taiwan for the first time

An adolescent Omura’s whale was sighted off the coast of Hualien (花蓮) Saturday

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The rare Omura's whale was spotted in Hualien (花蓮) Saturday. This photo highlights the whale's distinguishing markings.

The rare Omura's whale was spotted in Hualien (花蓮) Saturday. This photo highlights the whale's distinguishing markings. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)  — A member of the largely enigmatic whale species, Omura’s whale, was spotted in Hualien (花蓮) on Saturday.

A photo was first posted on Facebook by the whale-watching tour group, Turumoan (多羅滿賞鯨), of what it claimed to be a Baleen whale. The post immediately caught the attention of a Japanese whale researcher, Imai (今井), who excitedly commented on the post to point out the whale's misidentification:

"This is a world-famous, extremely rare seen Omura’s whale. This whale has only ever before been observed alive in Madagascar!" 

The identity of the whale in the photo was confirmed by two experts, the former Director General of the Taiwan Cetacean Society, Yao Chiu-run (姚秋如) and the researcher who first named the whale in 2003, Yamada (山田). Photographs of any living Omura’s whales are essentially non-existent in the world.

The Omura’s whale was not named as a new species until 2003.

Previously the Omura’s whale was found stranded ten different times on Taiwanese shores. These DNA specimens were critical in helping researchers to first identify this species of whale, as they had previously confused it with a Bryde’s whale.

Over the last 12 years, many sightings have been reported of the Omura’s whale off of Taiwan’s east coast, but none have been confirmed.

The photo captured by the Turumoan group clearly shows some distinguishing marks of the Omura’s whale. One can see the whale’s asymmetrical jaw, which is black on the lower-left side and white on the right. Also the white lining of the pectoral fin and the shape of the dorsal fin protruding from the water provided further evidence.

Mature Omura’s whales are over 10 meters in length, says Kurishio Ocean Education Foundation commentator, He zi-le (何資樂), so based on the photo, Saturday’s whale was an adolescent, an even rarer discovery.

Turumoan representatives suggest that there are many Omura’s whales living throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, though perhaps Taiwan offers one of the best "home base ecologies" for these elusive creatures.