"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," Cerchio said in a press release.
The researcher and his team have been studying marine mammals off Madagascar since 2007. Technically, they first saw Omura's whales there in 2011. At the time, however, they believed they were looking at Bryde's whales, which, while slightly bigger, look a lot like Omura's.
But, in 2013, the team changed study areas and began spotting more of the whales. This time, they got a better look at distinctive markings -- a jaw that's white on one side and dark on the other -- that told them they might be seeing Omura's whales and not Bryde's.
The researchers took skin biopsies from 18 adults, and DNA testing confirmed that the whales were indeed Omura's whales.
The team went on to document the animal's foraging behavior, habitat preferences, and vocalizations. The vocalizations include those from four mothers with young calves in tow.
Still unknown is just how rare Omura's whales actually are. Cerchio hopes to learn more about the animal's population density, as well as its behavior and vocalizations, when he returns to Madagascar this month to make more observations.