1 of 2 | More than a hundred marine scientists have urged the Biden administration to act to protect the endangered Rice's whale species in the Gulf Of Mexico. They said in a letter that protecting them means excluding oil and gas development from the whales' habitat. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries
Oct. 14 (UPI) -- More than a hundred marine scientists have written an open letter to the Biden administration urging action to protect a recently discovered Gulf of Mexico whale species known as Rice's whale.
Rice's whales are a new whale species discovered last year in an effort led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Gulf of Mexico. They are baleen whales weighing up to 60,000 pounds and were once thought to be Bryde's whales.
The letter said there are just an estimated 51 of these whales left and urged the Biden administration to "announce robust conservation measures to protect the Gulf of Mexico whale as well as funding for its recovery."
The scientist's letter said: "Continued oil and gas development in the Gulf represents a clear, existential threat to the whale's survival and recovery. The government's Natural Resource Damage Assessment on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill estimates that nearly 20 percent of Gulf of Mexico whales were killed, with additional animals suffering reproductive failure and disease."
The scientists said the Gulf of Mexico whales can recover, that they continue to produce calves and experience with other baleen whales demonstrates that "populations can rebound as conditions improve."
They said that continuing oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico poses a catastrophic risk to these whales. Protecting the species, they said, means "excluding leasing and other activities from the whale's habitat."
In 2019, a NOAA Fisheries issued a final rule on the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale, listing it as an endangered species, requiring the government to monitor its status and designate critical habitat for the whales and to come up with a recovery plan.
The scientists who signed the letter to the Biden administration said: "The Gulf of Mexico whale is a unique part of the Gulf's natural history and the only large whale species resident year-round in the waters of the United States. Yet few on-water measures have been established to protect it. Unless significant conservation actions are taken, the United States is likely to cause the first anthropogenic extinction of a great whale species."