The Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai) is a recently discovered species of baleen whale, first recognized as a distinct and ancient species in 2003. It is a Mysticete, or baleen whale, meaning that it has no teeth, but instead feeds by filtering small prey through a sieve-like structure called baleen, that hangs in rows from the upper jaw. Omura’s whales belong to the family of baleen whales called Balaenopteridae, or rorquals. Rorquals include the largest of whales, the Blue Whale at nearly 100ft, and range in size to the smallest, the Minke whale, at about 25ft. The Omura’s whale is on the smaller end of the range at about 33ft in length.
Prior to its discovery, Omura’s whales were confused with the slightly larger Bryde’s whale. In the early 1990’s, scientists started to notice that whales that had been originally classified as “Pygmy Bryde’s whales” were actually quite different in both physical appearance and genetically. By 2003, the Omura’s whale was recognized as a completely different species, with an evolutionary lineage that dates back 10-17 million years. At the time of its discovery, it was known only from a handful of strandings and whaling specimens, all in the western Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans, and never documented in the wild.