According to US federal regulators a rare species of baleen whales which is found in the Gulf of Mexico might be threatened with extinctions and could receive special protection.
The National Marine Fisheries Service was considering granting endangered or threatened status to the Bryde’s whales in April. There are only about a dozen of these mammals left in the DeSoto Canyon area which is nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) east from the site where five years ago the BP’s catastrophic oil spill occurred.
This species of whales can be found in tropical water all around the world, but in the Gulf of Mexico the population is considered a genetically separated species from any other baleen whales. Researchers estimate that in the Gulf there are fewer than 50 mammals and according to a recent stock assessment only 15 animals were found.
Whale specialist John Hildebrand of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego remarked:
“Whenever you have a species down in their tens, it’s spooky in terms of their long-term survival.”
The Interior Department has started opening up a sliver of the eastern Gulf in order to begin drilling operations nearby the whales’ habitat. Due to a moratium (temporary prohibition) most of the eastern Gulf is out of bounds to drillings. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition last year in an attempt to protect the whales. NRDC is a New York City-based environmental group which specializes in demanding more protection for wildlife with the help of federal conservation laws.
NRDC attorney Giulia CS Good Stefani said that Bryde’s whales are so few that it is clear they are at risk of extinction. She also added that the Gulf of Mexico consists of an industrialized body of water and the threats which it brings to animals are the perfect storm.
Some of the threats which the whales are faced with are oil and gas activities or being struck by passing ships. Powerful air-guns used in oil and gas exploration and the ship traffic interfere with the underwater system of communication of the whales. Pollution from oil spills, overfishing and ocean acidification are other factors which threaten the whales.
According to Jennie Lyons of the National Marine Fisheries Service the species are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act so it is illegal to harm the whales intentionally. However if the whales receive the status of threatened or endangered regulators would have to provide critical habitat for the whales and also create plans for their recovery.
Image Source: Wikipedia