A new whale species discovered in the Gulf of Mexico

It is so rare it may already be near extinction

Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale is listed under the Mammal Protection Act. To date, there are fewer than 100 of these whales remaining, making them critically endangered. (NOAA)

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

It’s called a Rice’s whale, which can grow up to 42 feet and weigh up to 60,000 pounds, or about five times as heavy as an elephant.

NOAA Fisheries scientists published a paper showing that the Bryde’s (pronounced “broodus”) whale is actually a new whale species. The discovery comes after decades of research on endangered Bryde’s species living in the Gulf of Mexico.

Genetic data collected on these whales hinted at a divergent evolutionary lineage of the species dating back to 2008, but more conclusive evidence came after Dr. Patricia Rosel, studied the skull of a stranded Rice’s whale off Everglades National Park in January of 2019.

Bone details distinguished it as something different from its close baleen cousins.

NOAA’s Dr. Patricia Rosel examines Rice’s whale type specimen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (NOAA)

After scientists gathered sufficient research to determine the whale was different, they gave it its own name.

“The name Rice’s whale is in honor of renowned American biologist Dale Rice who had a distinguished 60-year career in marine mammal science. He was the first researcher to recognize that Bryde’s whales (now Rice’s whales) are present in the Gulf of Mexico,” NOAA said.

NOAA estimates there are fewer than 100 of these whales existing in the wild. That means they are considered to be “critically endangered.”

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