Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have just identified a new baleen whale species in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The elusive whale species is hard to study because they spend most of their time underwater and away from the coastline. While the new Bryde’s‐like whale species was just identified, it was first discovered by biologists in the 1990’s but believed to be Bryde’s whales.
A recent article posted in Marina Mammal Science reveals the research process and details of the new species.
Dr. Patricia Rosel, lead author of the article and research geneticist with NOAA Fisheries, started on the lengthy identification process in 2008. It was a team effort that led to the final discover and identification of the whale species.
“The first clue we had that there might be something unique, really more unique about them came from genetic data we collected in the mid-2000s, 15 years ago,” she said.
Researchers were finally able to examine a skull of the Bryde’s-like whale when one washed up in Florida, and along with genetic data were able to prove it was a separate and new species. Marine biologist Dave Rice, was the first to recognize the species in the Gulf of Mexico, so researchers named it Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei).
Rice’s Whale Facts
- can weigh up to 60,000 pounds
- can grow up to 42 feet long
- they have lateral three ridges on the top of their rostrum (upper jaw area)
- Not much is known about their life expectancy, but closely related species reach sexual maturity at 9-years-old and can live about 60 years
Biologists state there are fewer than 100 Rice’s whales remaining, making them critically endangered. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act, since Bryde’s whale are considered endangered, and also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
But their biggest threats are: vessel strikes, ocean noise, energy exploration, development and production, oil spills and responses, entanglement in fishing gear, and ocean debris.
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