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Unique whale species recently discovered in Gulf already nearing extinction

1 year 6 months 2 weeks ago Tuesday, January 26 2021 Jan 26, 2021 January 26, 2021 7:06 AM January 26, 2021 in News
Source: The Advocate
Aerial shot of Rice's Whale in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NOAA/The Advocate

The Gulf of Mexico's waters are teeming with life, some of it yet to be fully understood or even discovered by scientists. 

Biologists couldn't help but note the never-ending nature of such scientific discoveries as they were recently surprised to learn new information about a unique species of whale found in the Gulf.

According to The Advocate, a new study headed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that what experts once believed were Gulf-residing Bryde's whales are actually a completely different species of whale.

Experts say the creatures are a unique species found only in the Gulf. But celebrations of the discovery were muted due to the added fact that the unique whales are nearly extinct.

The Advocate reports that only about 33 of the whales are likely alive today, according to the most recent NOAA estimate, and they prefer the deep, dark waters of DeSoto Canyon, one of the busiest commercial areas of the Gulf, where cargo ships and oil drilling pose a threat to the animals.

A looming problem lies in the recent relaxation of rules that allow deep-penetration seismic blasts in  search of oil and gas deposits at the Gulf’s bottom. The Advocate reports that seismic airgun survey technology has revealed a bonanza of overlooked oil deposits, but its use can disorient, injure or kill various marine animals. The Gulf’s small and struggling population of sperm whales will be harmed 13,000 times per year, and the Rice’s whales will be harassed more times than its entire remaining population of 33 individuals, a recent NOAA assessment of the new seismic survey rules found.

“What this means is you have one of the rarest, most endangered whales in your backyard,” said Michael Jasny, a marine mammal protection expert with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a great gift, and it’s a great responsibility.”

The whale now christened as “Rice’s whale,” in honor of biologist Dale Rice, also bears the scientific name 'Balaenoptera ricei.'

The Advocate reports that Bryde’s whale was granted protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in April 2019 and Rice’s whale will retain its protected status under the ESA and will also receive protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA officials said.

Officials hope the unique species of whale will survive and eventually be able to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This whale is part of what makes the Gulf unique,” Jasny said. “Hopefully naming this new species will help people recognize that there is a magnificent creature in the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s worth saving.”

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