Scientists capture the first-ever video of the rare Omura’s whale. (VIDEO)

Vanishingly Rare White Whale Caught on Camera for the First Time Ever (Video)

Vanishingly Rare White Whale Caught on Camera for the First Time Ever (Video)

Slate in motion.
Nov. 6 2015 11:17 AM

White Whale

It may not be Melville’s leviathan, but the Omura’s whale is every bit as mysterious.

First Look at an Omura's Whale
A rare glimpse of one of the rarest giants of the deep.

Source:New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The brief video above is the first time ever the Omura’s whale has been caught on camera. There have been scattershot, unconfirmed sightings of them, but until this footage was recently captured off the coast of Madagascar, we’ve only ever seen them up close when a few bodies washed up on shore.

Since Omura’s whales look similar to white Bryde’s whales, it wasn’t until scientists performed DNA tests on the corpses that they realized the Omura's whale is actually a separate species. They look just like Bryde’s whales, except the right jaw of an Omura's whale is white and the left jaw is black. Omura’s whales are also small, ranging between 35 and 38 feet long, about half the length of most blue whales. They don’t produce much of a blow, which is typically the first visual sign that there’s a whale nearby.

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Unsurprisingly, even unconfirmed sightings of these little-understood leviathans are so rare that researchers really have no idea how many Omura’s whales there are. They also don’t know where they are.

The team that shot the video, led by Salvatore Cerchio of the New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, first caught a glimpse of them of Madagascar in 2011. But they assumed they were seeing Bryde’s whales, since scientists believed Omura’s whales lived off the coast of Japan. When the team returned to a nearby site in 2013, it got a better look at their unusual jaws, and it confirmed from skin biopsies of 18 males that these actually were Omura’s whales.