The remains of a dead whale that washed up in the Everglades National Forest nearly two years ago helped researchers determine the discovery of a new species of marine mammal.
Whatever the name, less than 100 of these whales remain.
“Even something as large as a whale can be out there and be really different from all the whales, and we don’t even know it,” Patricia Rosel, who led the research, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It really brings to light the urgent need of conserving and protecting these animals in the gulf, and making sure we don’t lose another marine mammal species like we already have.”
Researchers were able to glean genetic material for testing and examined bones recovered from multiple whales over the years to make their determination including from a 38-foot whale that in 2019 washed up near the Everglades. Scientists believe the subspecies broke off years ago and evolved in the different environment.
“Possibly a group of them entered the Gulf of Mexico, became isolated and stayed there,” Rosel told the Times.
The whale was previously listed as an endangered subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. The new species will retain its protected status. It is also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The name change will also need to go through a committee for approval.
“The name Rice’s whale is in honor of renowned American biologist Dale Rice who had a distinguished 60-year career in marine mammal science. He was the first researcher to recognize that Bryde’s whales (now Rice’s whales) are present in the Gulf of Mexico,” NOAA said.
The Brydes whale is named for Johan Brydes who built the first whaling stations in South Africa in the early 20th century, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. The whale can grow up to 42 feet long and weigh up to 60,000 pounds.
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