Bryde’s whales in question are a genetically distinct subspecies of Bryde’s whale.The population of Bryde’s whales in question are a genetically distinct subspecies of Bryde’s whale, if not an entirely new species altogether, and the latest population estimates put their number at fewer than 50 individuals.
Conservationists are calling for protection for a unique population of whales living in the Gulf of Mexico over concerns that they may be the most endangered whales on earth. Without intervention, conservationists warn that they could disappear entirely.
Other populations of Bryde’s whales can be found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, but these whales are non-migratory and live solely in the Gulf in the DeSoto Canyon, off the Florida panhandle.
Bryde’s whales are close relatives of blue and humpback whales, but their lives remain mysterious. Just last year, researchers identified two subspecies of Bryde’s whales while studying them to define separate groups and subspecies and ensure protection for vulnerable populations: a larger one that roams offshore waters and a smaller one that lives in coastal habitats.
“Very little is known about Bryde’s whales in terms of where populations are distributed, the extent of their range, or even relationships among them at the population, sub-species and species levels,” Francine Kershaw, a researcher at Columbia University and lead author of the study, said at the time.
Oddly the population in the Gulf is more closely related to the population that exists the farthest from them. Along with their unique gentic makeup, the population in the Gulf also has a distinctive song unlike the calls of other Bryde’s whales.
Unfortunately they are up against a slew of threats in their limited range. Researchers believe they’ve been isolated for quite some time, leaving them with a lack of genetic diversity, which is compounded by other threats including ship strikes, noise pollution, oil and gas exploration and the toxic aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill. There are also essentially no laws in place to protect them from further harm.