Scientists made a startling discovery last year: a “unique” small group of baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico is forming an entirely new species. The whales – weighing up to 60,000 pounds each – are among the world’s most endangered whales, and scientists say humans have brought them “on the brink of extinction”.
The whales in question were thought to be Bryde’s whales, which are also found in the bay. But after years of careful research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined it was the Rice whale, also known as the Gulf of Mexico whale. They are the only baleen whale known to live in the waters of the Gulf.
The massive creatures can grow to 41 feet – longer than a full-sized school bus – and are located constantly in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico between Louisiana and Florida.
Scientists have warned since their discovery that fewer than 100 of them may survive, and recent estimates put their number at only 51. A letter to the Biden administration Thursday urges immediate action.
They say “unique” whales could become extinct due to human activity.
“The continued development of oil and gas in the Gulf presents a clear existential threat to the whale’s survival and recovery,” the scientists said. “The government’s natural resource damage assessment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill estimates that approximately 20% of the Gulf of Mexico whales were killed, as well as other animals suffering from reproductive failure and disease.”
Aside from the 2010 spill, the whales also suffer from noise from seismic oil and gas drilling – an activity that “dominates the acoustic environment” in the Gulf region in which they reside, the scientists said.
Last month, the Biden administration restarted its business $190 million For companies that will bid for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf, according to The Washington Post. That money was earmarked and 307 oil and gas leases were awarded as part of a deal to pass , said the newspaper. The rent sale An area that forms the Bay Area between Texas and Alabama, On the border and is likely to intersect with it Rice whales home.
the government Accept comments An environmental impact statement for rental sales through November 21.
Fishing gear and ocean wrecks also pose significant threats, as do ships, especially at night when the whales are resting 50 feet from the ocean.
In their letter, the scientists noted that “one of the stranded whales, a lactating female, was found with injuries consistent with severe trauma.” “Another person, a free-swimming person, was observed with spinal deformities consistent with impact injury.”
But scientists said there is hope.
Gulf of Mexico whales are still breeding, and previous research on other baleen whales has shown that populations can recover as conditions in their environment improve.
They warned that “the Gulf of Mexico whales are on the verge of extinction, and that action is urgently needed to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as well as to alleviate human pressures.”
Scientists said their area in the bay should no longer be used for aquaculture, offshore wind farms or oil and gas development, and ships should be required to slow down. They also said drilling should be prohibited in areas outside the whale’s environment, such as the Mississippi Valley, as it presents a “catastrophic risk to species.”
They added that the current plans of the Biden administration to continue seismic exploration and drilling in the northern Gulf and that the ongoing study of offshore oil and gas leasing in the area would impede the ability of these whales to survive.
The Commerce Department told CBS News it had received the scientists’ letter and “will respond to the sender through appropriate channels.”
CBS News has reached out to others in the Biden administration, including those at NOAA and the Department of the Interior, for comment.
The scientists concluded, “The Gulf of Mexico whale is a unique part of the Gulf’s natural history and the only large whale species to live year-round in US waters. However, little has been done on the water to protect it.” “Unless significant conservation measures are taken, the United States will likely cause the first human extinction of a large whale species.”