Featured Image Credit: CaboTrek
By Natalie Helbling
Remember the Deepwater horizon oil spill that happened in 2010? Well, the Gulf of Mexico is starting to see some of the long term effects, on one species in particular. The Bryde’s whale or the tropical whale lives in waters not too far from the equator. Unlike many other species of whales, Bryde’s do not migrate which causes some trouble for the local population of Bryde’s whales in the Gulf. There is an estimated 33 Bryde’s whales that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico year round, and this number is now in jeopardy.
In 2014, the National Resources Defense Council wrote a petition to assess the Bryde’s whale population in order to classify the marine mammal as endangered. After collecting data for a 12 month period, researchers found 27 threats to these mammals in the Gulf. Out of the 27 potential threats, the top three most harmful include: effects from the oil spill, boating injuries, and offshore drilling. These creatures are rather curious and find themselves checking out boat, increasing their likelihood of being struck. In addition, the oil spill has altered the ecosystem causing problems for the whales, has been known to cause lesions and diseases, impacted their food supply, and potentially their behavior.
Listing this species, especially the population found in the Gulf, which has genetic diversity from other Bryde’s whales, as endangered will increase the protection of this marine mammal. Although it is currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, being listed as endangered will allow further restrictions to be in place. Offshore drilling will be altered, alleviating problems for the whales, but increasing problems for major petroleum companies like the American Petroleum Institute. Along with American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America and International Geophysical Contractors disputed the petition.
It only makes sense for the large petroleum industry to be against protecting the whales if it means their business will be altered. The NOAA Fisheries is holding a public forum in January to discuss the petition. More information regarding the petition can be found on federalregister.gov by searching for “Notice of 12-Month Finding on a Petition To List the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whale as Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act”.