Ultra-rare whale washed up off Florida is a new species, scientists say

Good News Notes:

The animal formerly known as the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale could need a new name.

The endangered whale may — upon confirmation — be an entirely new species, according to research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists have long puzzled over the whales, with fewer than 100 estimated in existence, perhaps among the rarest in the world. Examination of a skeleton found off of Everglades National Park in 2019, which was later buried at Fort De Soto Park to decompose, has led to new clues.

‘Even something as large as a whale can be out there and be really different from all the whales, and we don’t even know ‘it,’ said Patricia Rosel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist who led the research. ‘It really brings to light the urgent need of conserving and protecting these animals in the gulf, and making sure we don’t lose another marine mammal species like we already have.’

The species is considered the region’s only baleen whale, known for comb-like plates in their mouths that strain food in lieu of teeth.

The new name designation awaits recognition from a committee, in a process similar to peer review. Scientists have suggested calling the animal the Rice’s whale, after Dale Rice, a biologist who first recognized them in the gulf.

Rosel and another scientist had noticed years ago that DNA samples from the gulf whales seemed different from other Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. But to be confident in designating a new species entirely, Rosel said, they needed to examine the whale’s skull.

That proved difficult because of how uncommon the whales — and their remains — are. They found one old specimen, from the 1950s, in a collection in Louisiana. But it was missing the crucial bones they needed for comparison. They dug up the bones from another whale at Fort De Soto, which had been killed by a boat and found floating off Tampa Bay in 2009. But the skull had been crushed. Rosel suspected the backhoe that entombed it was to blame.

Then in early 2019 came a tragic break. Someone fishing spotted an enormous dead whale floating off the Everglades.

It was 38 feet long, and scientists rushed to dissect it. They found a 3-inch piece of plastic in part of its stomach, which may have contributed to its death.”

View the whole story here: https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/2021/01/26/ultra-rare-whale-washed-up-off-florida-is-a-new-species-scientists-say/?outputType=amp

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