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Scientists Discover a New Endangered Whale That Lives Only in Coastal United States

By Andrew Alpin, 21 November 2022

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7 Allowing the coastal waters to be drilled for oil and gas can increase the threats to these whales’ existence

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In a letter sent, the group said that if the Biden administration plans to drill for oil and gas in federal waters off the coast of the United States in the next five years, it should think about how potentially hazardous that could be for Rice’s whales. Despite his earlier climate conservation vows, Biden opens the door to more offshore drilling.

The group still sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deborah Haaland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, stating that “Continued oil and gas development in the Gulf represents a clear, existential threat to the whale’s survival and recovery.” The species is mostly found in the DeSoto Canyon area of the Gulf of Mexico. It is vulnerable to long-term exposure to seismic air gun blasts, which are used in oil and gas exploration. The group clearly stated that these blasts could disrupt “activities vital to feeding and reproduction over large ocean areas.”

Allowing the coastal waters to be drilled for oil and gas can increase the threats to these whales’ existence

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6 Oil spills can kill these whales

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Marine mammals are threatened with severe illness and death if exposed to oil spills, like the huge Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. When this happens, the oil can get into the airways and lungs and coat the baleen that Rice’s whales consume. The director of marine mammal protection at the Natural Resources Defence Council, Michael Jasny, said, “Oil and gas development has really created something of a house of horrors for the species.”

Oil spills can kill these whales

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5 Ship collisions are yet another significant threat

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Collisions with ships are also a major danger. Whales in the Gulf of Mexico sleep in the upper parts of the ocean at night, which could put them in the way of ships. In 2009, a lactating female was found dead in Tampa Bay. She likely died from blunt force trauma caused by a ship hitting her.

The scientists wrote, “A number of shipping routes traverse the whale’s habitat along the northern Gulf, and the collision risk is likely to increase with new offshore oil and gas development. With abundance so low, the loss of even a single whale threatens the survival of the species.”

Ship collisions are yet another significant threat

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4 Scientists worked for decades to find a species of whale that had been swimming right under their noses for years

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The Gulf of Mexico whale is in a group of species called the “Bryde’s whale complex” that are hard to tell apart by looking at them. Biologist Dale W. Rice found out about the population in the 1960s when he examined a live one that had been stranded off the Florida Panhandle and was being towed back to sea.

Scientists became interested again in the marine mammals and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Genetic samples from whales in the area showed that they came from a different lineage of evolution. In 2019, a break came when a male washed ashore in the Everglades and died. A Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History team dug up the bones a few months later.

Scientists worked for decades to find a species of whale that had been swimming right under their noses for years

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