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Rice's Whale Turns One: Here's What We're Learning

February 18, 2022

This year marks the first year the Rice’s whale has been recognized as a new species. Learn more about our ongoing comprehensive research.

Rice's whale surfacing. A Rice’s whale surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: NOAA Fisheries (NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 14450).

In the last year, we have learned that the Rice’s whale is one of the most endangered cetaceans in the world. While researchers have known about these whales for years, it was just last year that these whales were recognized as a unique species. Rice’s whales are the only baleen whale known to reside in the Gulf of Mexico year-round. While they have been seen throughout the Gulf, they have primarily been seen in a restricted area. Their population size is estimated to be fewer than 100 animals. Scientists at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, in collaboration with others, are undertaking a comprehensive multi-year study to learn more about these rare whales. 

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A Rice's whale named Edna, photographed using a drone in 2019 and matched by markings on its back to a known whale first documented in 2018.
“Edna” (catalog ID 12003) was photographed using a drone in 2019 and matched by markings on its back to a known whale first documented in 2018. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Grace (Lisa) Conger and Beth Josephson (Permit # NMFS MMPA/ESA 14450 and 21938).

The study uses a multifaceted approach using advanced technologies to collect data. These include: 

The information gathered during these studies will help us improve management and recovery efforts for this endangered species. The studies are working on identifying the whales’ preferred habitats, prey types, distribution, and ecological role in the Gulf of Mexico. And we still have much to learn!

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on February 18, 2022