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New Whale Species Discovered in the Gulf of Mexico — But It's Already Going Extinct

Eric Todisco
·2-min read

NOAA

A new whale species has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to an article published by Marine Mammal Science, the species — initially thought to be the Bryde's whale — is being called the "Rice's whale" by scientists in honor of American biologist Dale Rice, who was the first researcher to discover Bryde's whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there are likely less than 100 Rice's whales remaining. The species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Studies on the Rice's whale began back in the 1990s by NOAA Fisheries scientist Dr. Patricia Rosel, who led the study, and fellow NOAA scientist Dr. Keith Mullin.

In 2008, Dr. Rosel and a colleague, NOAA scientist Lynsey Wilcox, examined the first genetic data of a Rice's whale obtained from samples collected on NOAA Fisheries vessel surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the major breakthrough in the study came last year from the examination of a skull of a Rice's whale that had washed up on a Florida beach in January 2019.

Through additional research, Dr. Rosel and her team were finally able to determine that the Rice's whale was an entirely different species than the Bryde's whale.

NOAA

NOAA

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According to the NOAA, Rice's whales can weigh up to 60,000 pounds (30 tons) and grow up to 42 feet. Not much is known about their life expectancy, but closely related species typically reach sexual maturity at age 9 and can live about 60 years.

The biggest threats to the species, as listed by the NOAA, include vessel strikes, ocean noise, energy exploration, development and production, oil spills and responses, entanglement in fishing gear, and ocean debris.