The first recorded sighting of an omura whale in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been reported to marine managers.
Reef Express in Mission Beach submitted images to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority of what they first thought was the also rare sei whale.
Overnight an expert in Madagascar verified the sighting was in fact an omura whale. A second possible sighting — by Wavelength Reef Cruises in Port Douglas — is being verified.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Sightings Network Manager Chris Jones said this was a great example of citizen science in action.
“This is the first recorded sighting of an omura whale in the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
“We’re delighted this has been officially recorded in our sightings network, showing the important role of citizen science in contributing to our understanding of the marine environment.
“The species is rarely seen — it’s so rare we needed to track down an expert to confirm the identity of this enigmatic whale.
“We encourage anyone out on the water to report the sightings they see through our sightings network — you never know when you might discover something ground breaking.”
This is not the first time rare sightings were reported through the Marine Park Authority’s sightings network, with sei whales and whale shark aggregations also reported through the network.
Earlier this year National Geographic reported that scientists were starting to piece together the secret lives of seldom seen omura whales — previously considered an enigma.
In 2003 Japanese researchers identified it as a species in its own right. It was previously thought to be a smaller version of the similar-looking Bryde’s whale.
Genetic data confirmed the whale as its own species in 2006.
Sightings can be submitted to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority through Eye on the Reef.