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Story highlights

Pygmy killer whales were found stranded this week in Mississippi bayou

The rare dolphin species comes from the Northern Gulf of Mexico

The mammals are being rehabilitated in Gulfport, MS

(CNN) —  

A discovery in a Mississippi bayou is giving scientists a glimpse into a rarely-seen marine species.

Attracted to the telltale “swoosh” sound of a blowhole, a fisherman this week found two stranded pygmy killer whales in Waveland, along the Gulf Coast - far from their natural habitat.

“Very little is known about this species,” says Moby Solangi, Director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in nearby Gulfport, Mississippi. He told CNN affiliate WLOX that the discovery is like finding so-called “black boxes” that give insight and history in to an otherwise mysterious sea creature.

Even though the animal has “killer whale” in its name, it is a member of the dolphin family. Pygmy killer whales also have a very strange body shape. According to National Marine Fisheries Service “they have a small head with a rounded melon that extends in front of the mouth and there is no discernable beak.”

The pygmy killer whales were a long way from their natural habitat of deep water in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Their numbers in the region are estimated at just over 400. They are also located in Hawaii and the Western North Atlantic Ocean.

The animals were rescued and transferred to the institute, where they arrived disoriented and unable to swim. Blood tests showed the whales were dehydrated.

In the last few days, their conditions have been improving. The larger pygmy whale is swimming on its own. But the smaller one is being treated for a possible shark bite wound.

When first rescued, the whales were separated and the smaller one started to panic. But the social animals are now kept in the same pool, as staff and volunteers continue to nurse them back to health.

“The little one is hugging close to the big one. He always goes in to nuzzle. Always touching him,” said an institute volunteer.