This New Species of Whale Was Discovered Hiding in Plain Sight
Every year, thousands of new species of animals and plants are discovered. Most of these newly discovered species are plants, small reptiles, and insects. But when something as large as a whale turns out to be an entirely new species, it’s hard not to be surprised.
In a study published in January 2021 in the journal Marine Mammal Science, researchers announced the discovery of a new species of baleen whale. The brand-new species was named Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei), which is found in the northeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.
Fewer Than 100 Whales are Left
Although it was only in 2021 when the new whale species was published, marine biologists have been studying the mammal for years.
The whale was named after Dale Rice, an esteemed marine scientist with over 60 years of experience in the field. In 1990, Rice discovered that a small population of whales was endemic to a very specific area of the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, it was assumed that the group of whales belong to another species of baleen called Bryde’s whales.
According to the study published in Marine Mammal Science, there could be fewer than 100 Rice’s whales left on the planet. The Gulf of Mexico is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and ship collisions with whales are common. But that’s just one of the threats to the survival of Rice’s whales. Abandoned fishing nets are still the leading threat to the survival of marine species, including whales, sharks, turtles, dolphins, and more.