Already facing possible extinction, a pod of 50 whales found off the coast of Florida has already become one of the world's most endangered species shortly after its discovery.
The scientific journal Endangered Species Research published a paper by Patricia E. Rosel and Lynsey A. Wilcox on the newly discovered pod of whales, which not only identified the cetaceans as being part of the Bryde's whale family, but that they exhibit unique traits at the genetic level.
The level of [genetic] divergence suggests a unique evolutionary trajectory worthy of its own taxonomic standing.
– Patricia E. Rosel
While this is great news, the trouble plaguing the whales is the precise location in the Gulf of Mexico where this group of about 50 Bryde's whales live is potentially the most dangerous place they could be in. The area the pod considers its home, is not far from the underwater canyon where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010. Their underwater canyon home is surrounded by newly granted oil and gas drilling leases, and subject to a constant barrage of airgun fire.
[The whales] have been struck by ships making their way to and from the region’s major ports. And new oil and gas leases are slated for the eastern Gulf, encroaching further on their habitat and adding to the risk of future spills.
– Michael Jasny, National Resources Defense Council blogger
Since there are only about 50 of them, losing even one would be critical. “The small population size and markedly low genetic diversity raise conservation concern for this unique group of whales.”, Rosel writes.
Bryde’s (pronounced “broodus”) whales are about 40 feet long, and are part of the baleen whale suborder, meaning they feed on small fish, krill and plankton by filtering them through plates attached to their upper jaw, instead of chomping them with teeth.
“The Gulf of Mexico is the most heavily prospected body of water in the world”, Jasny writes. The NRDC has petitioned to get the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales listed as an endangered species, which would grant the whale family certain protections under the Endangered Species Act.