New Whale Species Discovered Last Year on ‘Edge of Extinction’

by Amy Myers
Photo by: Francois Gohier/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

After discovering a new species of whale just last year, scientists have confirmed that the Rice’s (or Gulf of Mexico) whale is already on the edge of extinction. As a result, researchers are asking the Biden administration to take action and help protect the vulnerable marine animal.

Initially, when scientists found the creature wandering through the Gulf in January 2021, they believed it was a Bryde’s whale. After closer inspection, though, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) realized that this was, in fact, an entirely new species of baleen whale.

Unfortunately, with this exciting discovery came some much more concerning news – scientists believe that there are only 50 of these majestic creatures in existence. What’s worse, they think offshore oil and gas drilling practices have killed off a good portion of the population, according to DailyMail. In particular, the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 could be responsible for killing 20 percent of the Rice’s whales in the Gulf.

With so few of these whales left, more than 100 scientists have signed a petition prompting the president to step in to avoid “the first anthropogenic extinction of a great whale species.”

Whales at Risk of Extinction Requires ‘Significant Conservation Action’ to Survive

The open letter to the Biden administration was pretty clear – this species of whale is heading straight for extinction if nothing changes.

Rice’s whales, which can weigh up to 600,000 pounds, grow 42 feet long and live for up to 60 years, is the only large whale that spends their time in U.S. waters year-round.

“Yet few on-water measures have been established to protect it. Unless significant conservation actions are taken,” the team concluded in the letter.

Furthermore, the group warned that oil exploration in the Gulf also affects marine life’s acoustic environment as well as the physical.

“Airgun surveys have far-reaching effects on baleen whales, including the masking of biologically important sounds and the disruption of activities vital to feeding and reproduction over large ocean areas,” the letter read.

Scientists Report Shipping Routes Pose Additional Threat to Whales

On top of the pressure that oil exploration is causing, the scientists behind the open letter claimed that shipping routes may also push this whale population closer to extinction. Rice’s whales sleep just 49 feet under the water’s surface. When cargo ships travel through the waters at night, these creatures become victims of collisions. And while they are massive mammals, they still sustain some fairly significant injuries from the accidents.

Apparently, researchers found “One stranded whale, a lactating female,” with “injuries consistent with blunt force trauma,” the letter shared.

The scientists added that “another, a free-swimming individual” had “spinal deformities consistent with a collision injury.”

Ultimately, the team hopes that their letter will urge the Biden administration to cease using the Gulf for offshore wind farms or oil and gas development. Additionally, they asked that officials ban drilling in and around the Rice’s whales’ habitat.