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.
The study uses a multifaceted approach using advanced technologies to collect data. These include:
- Animal photo-identification
- Kinematic (motion) and acoustic tagging
- Biological sampling of the whales and their potential prey
- Visual and passive acoustic monitoring and
- Environmental measurements, eDNA and prey distribution mapping
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!