New rare species of whale discovered

A small population of approximately 50 Bryde’s whales were recently found to be genetically different to any other species of whale, meaning they may be a distinct subspecies or a completely new species altogether. However, this discovery means they could also be the most endangered whale species globally.

Exactly when the decline occurred in uncertain. One theory is that commercial operations like oil and gas drilling may have resulted in their reduction. This unique type inhabit the northern Gulf of Mexico in waters off the Florida panhandle in the DeSoto canyon. Other Bryde’s whales are found elsewhere, but these whales are resident which means they live solely in the DeSoto canyon. A smaller habitat can drastically reduce genetic diversity anyway, but these Gulf Bryde’s are also living where there is a severe threat of habitat degradation from the region’s oil and gas industry through drilling, ship strikes, noise pollution and oil spills. In fact, the species is living adjacent to the Mississippi canyon where the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in 2010. Toxicology studies have shown there is a high probability these brydes have high levels of toxic metals in their tissues.

The finding has instigated a new petition for US protection from the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) to list the whales as an endangered species, ensuring protection. The national Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has until December to make a decision about whether the petition contains enough information for federal protection. If so, a status review will be conducted to establish whether the population is termed “threatened” or “endangered”. Unfortunately, this may be a lengthy process potentially taking up to two years.

Photo credit: Doug Perrine / Barcroft Media


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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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