Rare Gulf of Mexico whale could be listed as endangered
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A Bryde’s whale in the Gulf of Mexico NOAA Fisheries
BY HANNAH MORSE
A year-round resident of Gulf of Mexico waters may be listed as threatened or endangered early next year pending public comment and review after a 12-month study of the whale was published by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broo’-dus,”) is thought to be the only baleen whale that sticks around the Gulf of Mexico all year. Rather than teeth, they use filter feeding baleen to catch krill and small fish. Named, ironically, after South African whaler John Byrde, the whales can be between 40 and 50 feet long and are often confused with fin whales because they share a similar-looking dorsal fin.
Yet not enough is known about the species’ genetics and distribution, so it’s listed as “data deficient” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List of Threatened Species.
The listing issue was sparked by a petition from the National Resources Defense Council in 2014. In its original petition, the NRDC argued that the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 could have had disastrous effects on the small local population, which the Marine Mammal Commission estimates to be around 33 individuals. Also, because the whales are said to be curious about boats, they’re at risk of dying by boat strikes.
A 90-day review was followed by a 12-month review to find as much scientific and commercial information about the species. The NMFS’s Status Review Team found 27 potential threats to the Bryde’s whale, most seriously oil spills, boat strikes, offshore drilling and small population size. They unanimously agreed the species had a high risk for extinction.
Like all other marine mammals, the Bryde’s whale automatically falls under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But being listed as endangered would grant them more protections, which in turn would adversely affect the offshore drilling business. During the first public comment period last year, the American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America and the International Association of Geophysical Contractors rejected the proposal in a joint letter, and appeared to be the only dissenting comment, saying that it would affect their operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
The public hearing will be held will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at the NOAA Fisheries St. Petersburg office, 236 13th Ave. S.
The public comment period will end on Jan. 30. To read the proposal in full or submit a comment, visit federalregister.gov and search for “Notice of 12-Month Finding on a Petition To List the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's Whale as Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act” from Dec. 8.
Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse
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