(CN) – A species of whale native to the Gulf of Mexico whose population have dwindled to less than 100 will be listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act on Monday, but conservationists say there is still a long road ahead for the mammal’s survival.
The Bryde’s (pronounced “broodus”) whales are about 45 to 55 feet in length and resemble humpback whales, but are smaller and make their home in warm, temperate waters across the globe. There are some pods that migrate during different seasons, while other Bryde’s whales stay put in one area.
The mammal is also susceptible to collisions with boats, ocean noise from human activity and whaling throughout the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The pods in the Gulf of Mexico are threatened by gas and oil operations, along with oil spills and cleanup.
Reports vary on the exact number of whales living in the Gulf of Mexico, but they range from 33 to 50 being mature.
The Bryde’s whales in this region are at risk of extinction due to their small population, their restricted movement and other threats, which is why the federal government will need to put together a blueprint for the mammal’s recovery.
“This is one of the most endangered marine mammal populations in the world,” said Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Survival of the species depends upon applying the full protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.”
Critical habitat still needs to be identified and more data needs to be collected to narrow down the actual habitat of the whale.
The nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, first petitioned the federal government to give the Bryde’s whale endangered status in 2014.
In relation to Bryde’s whales across the globe, the federal government recognized that the Gulf of Mexico subspecies is susceptible to the Allee effect, which views undercrowding as an obstacle to population growth. That can mean a lack of suitable mates and inbreeding.
Zak Smith, senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, said there’s still a lot of work to be done for the Bryde’s whale, but the listing is a positive step.
Specific actions to save the whales should not have to wait for the designation of a habitat to be completed, said Smith, as the more obvious dangers like new oil drilling operations can already be identified.
The nonprofit advocacy group sued the federal government twice for missing important deadlines in their review of the Bryde’s whale status, once in May 2016 during the Obama administration and another time in February 2019 during the Trump administration.
“Even with the current administration’s record on Endangered Species Act, the need to list the Gulf of Mexico whales was undeniable,” Smith told Courthouse News. “Now they have a fighting chance for survival and to bounce back from the brink of extinction. If they continue to decline, that will be a choice that is on the government because now they have an obligation.”
Along with the new status for the Bryde’s whales, the federal government would likely give priority to gathering data on the remaining whales in the Gulf of Mexico to better protect their numbers.
The rule will be entered into the Federal Register on April 15 and go into effect 30 days after.