Jan 28, 2021 - News

New whale species identified in the Gulf of Mexico

NOAA's Patricia Rosel examines Rice's whale type specimen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Credit: NOAA

A whale that washed up in 2019 in the Everglades and was later buried at Fort De Soto in Pinellas County is actually a newly identified, ultra-rare species.

Why it matters: There are fewer than 100 of these critically endangered whales remaining.

What's new: Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found evidence that what was previously known as Bryde's whales are actually their own species — now branded Rice's whales.

  • The new name honors renowned American biologist Dale Rice, who was the first researcher to recognize that the whales were present in the Gulf of Mexico.

How they did it: Scientists long suspected that whales in the Gulf were different from other whales.

  • To be confident, they needed to examine the whale’s genetics and skull, a tricky task when they can weigh 30 tons and be 42 feet long.
  • The carcass buried at Fort De Soto was excavated and shipped to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for study and confirmation.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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