Ocean Wildlife Obituaries: Rice’s Whale

A whale that died from plastic ingestion is from a newly discovered species

Photo credit: Sarah Glenn, NBC2 News

January 2019–Everglades National Park, Florida

A new species of baleen whale has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, after one of them beached and later died from plastic ingestion. The dead male was 38 feet long and weighed 23,000 pounds. A necropsy revealed a 3 inch piece of plastic lodged in part of its stomach that likely contributed to its death.

Initially marine biologists identified it as a subspecies of Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whale. DNA samples revealed it to be an unknown species similar to Bryde’s whales that appear to have branched off and evolved separately. The species has since been named Rice’s whale after Dale Rice, a marine biologist who first observed them in the Gulf.

The whale’s remains were sent to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Rice’s Whale Facts (from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

– Rice’s whales can weigh up to 60,000 pounds (that is 30 tons), which is about five times as heavy as an elephant!

– They can grow up to 42 feet long.

– Like their sister species, they have lateral three ridges on the top of their rostrum (upper jaw area).

– Not much is known about their life expectancy, but closely related species reach sexual maturity at 9-years-old and can live about 60 years.

– The biggest threats to the species include vessel strikes, ocean noise, energy exploration, development and production, oil spills and responses, entanglement in fishing gear, and ocean debris.

– They are found in the Gulf of Mexico in the Southeast United States.

– The Rice’s whale will be listed as an endangered species on the ESA.

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