Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced they were looking into granting endangered or threatened status of Bryde’s Whales that live in the DeSoto Canyon Region in the Gulf. In 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition seeking protection for the whales. These actions have been taken because scientists believe the whales may be threatened with extinction.
Bryde,s Whales are a species of the Baleen Whale, some of the largest animals on earth. The Bryde’s Whales grow up to 55 feet long and can weigh up to 90,000 pounds. They feast on plankton, crustaceans and small fish. They are found in tropical waters around the world but those found in the Gulf of Mexico are likely a genetically separate species from other baleen whales.
The DeSoto Canyon region where the whales live is about 70 miles off the Florida Panhandle, making them the only resident baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico. While other baleen species visit the Gulf these are the only ones known to live in the Gulf year-round.
The threats to these creatures include ship strikes and oil and gas activities. Seismic surveys done by powerful air guns in oil and gas exploration and the general noise of ship traffic interfere with the ability of whales to communicate. It can cause great whales to cease vocalizing and can compromise their ability to feed. Also, their DeSoto Canyon home is located about 50 miles east of the site of BP’s oil spill five years ago and it is yet known the long term effects of the spill or future spills may have on the whale.
The whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to intentionally harm them. But conservationists are hoping that a threatened or endangered species listing would minimize the threats and prompt regulators to establish critical habitat for the whales and develop a recovery plan. The process could take two years but without the endangered species listing many fear the population could just disappear.
Photo courtesy of NOAA