Congress Members Want Protection For Gulf Whales

Mar 14, 2019

Members of Congress want the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale to be federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The unique whales are dark, sleek and can grow to over 40 feet long.

Year round, they live in an area called DeSoto Canyon-- about 25 miles south of Pensacola and 90 miles west of South Tampa. It's estimated there are fewer than 100, or maybe under 50 of them left.

"We're concerned about any kind of risk to them that might push them over the edge as it were because there are so few of them to begin with,” said Laura Engleby, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She said a few things threaten the whales, like human-caused noise underwater, vessel strikes and oil spills.

Back in 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service said the whale was in danger of extinction and recommended it be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

But two years later, that's still under review.

U.S. Representatives of Florida Vern Buchanan and Kathy Castor sent a letter to NOAA recently, urging the agency to act on that recommendation.

Researchers are just now starting to learn more about Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales, like how they interact, how they feed and what they eat.

Engleby said they're using settlement money from the 2010 BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill to study them.

“We know so little about them and this sort of heightened awareness about them is helping us study them more and there's some really interesting studies going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico,” she said.

A “rare opportunity” came up in January when one of the whales stranded and died at Everglades National Park.

“The most recent stranding will become the type specimen for the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale and likely end up at the Smithsonian as the type specimen,” said Engleby.