Last Year, Researchers Designated A New Whale Species. They Are Currently “On The Brink Of Extinction.”
More than 100 experts have petitioned the Biden administration to take action in an open letter, stating that a new species of a whale discovered in the Gulf of Mexico last year is already “on the edge of extinction.” Prior to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s determination that it was a new species of baleen whale in January 2021, this animal—also known as Rice’s whale or the Gulf of Mexico whale—was long thought to be a Bryde’s whale.
The Deepwater Horizon oil leak in 2010 may have killed 20% of the population, but only roughly 50 people are currently known to be alive. Researchers believe offshore oil and gas drilling techniques are to blame.
This would be “the first extinction of a great whale species caused by anthropogenic activity,” according to the vast team of scientists, who are now raising the alarm about the probable loss. In January 2021, a new species of baleen whale known as Rice’s whale was discovered. But only 50 of them remain in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the planet’s most endangered whale.
Scientists have petitioned the Biden administration to take action in an open letter, blaming offshore oil and gas production for this. Rice whales can grow to a length of 42 feet, weigh up to 600,000 pounds, and have a lifespan of up to 60 years.
The experts write that this is “the only large whale species residing year-round in US seas” in their letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. Yet there aren’t many on-water safeguards in place for it. The panel came to the conclusion that considerable conservation measures must be done.
The scientists accuse the Gulf of Mexico’s fossil fuel exploration and development of upsetting the animals’ ecosystem and unintentionally killing them. According to the experts, the effects of extensive airgun surveys and oil spills pose a “clear, existential threat” to the whale’s survival and recovery if oil and gas production in the Gulf is not stopped.
The letter refers to April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil leak, which released 134 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. Additionally, seismic oil and gas exploration noise, which “dominates the acoustic environment through much of the northern Gulf,” has an effect on the species.
The authors concluded that “airgun surveys have far-reaching impacts on baleen whales, including the masking of physiologically significant noises and the disruption of activities vital to eating and reproduction over vast ocean areas.” As Rice’s whales rest within 49 feet of the surface throughout the night, various shipping routes that cross through the seas present another threat.
The Deepwater Horizon leak in 2010 may have resulted in the deaths of about 20% of the population. The lifespan of a Rice whale is up to 60 years, and it can grow to a maximum weight of 600,000 pounds. The letter notes that two of the stranded whales had spinal deformities that were consistent with collision injuries, including a lactating female who had been discovered with injuries consistent with blunt force trauma.
Another, a free-swimming person, was seen with spinal abnormalities consistent with a collision injury. Despite the fact that there are just 50 known Rice’s whales, scientists are nevertheless optimistic about the survival of the species because the whales are still breeding and prior research on baleen whale populations suggests populations can grow if conditions are improved. The letter states that because of human pressures as well as the fact that Gulf of Mexico whales are on the verge of extinction, urgent action is required to lessen mortality and catastrophic injury.
Scientists advise officials to forbid drilling both inside and outside of the whales’ habitat in order to rescue the whales. They claim that the Gulf should no longer be used for offshore wind farms or oil and gas development. The letter demands the protection of the habitat in the eastern, central, and western Gulf.
The Biden administration is currently moving forward with drilling in the northern Gulf at full speed and is “considering a new five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing, as well as a new regulation and related licenses and authorizations for seismic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The only large whale species that live year-round in American waters is the Gulf of Mexico whale, which is a unique aspect of the Gulf’s natural history. However, there aren’t many on-water protection measures in place,” experts observed. The United States “is likely to cause the first anthropogenic extinction of a great whale species” unless strong conservation measures are adopted.