US regulators say a distinctive kind of baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico may be endangered to extinction and could not receive special protection.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced in April that it was considering to grant the status of endangered or threatened species to the little population of Bryde’s whales which live in the DeSoto Canyon region, a deep-water area 80 kilometers east of Bp’s oil spill 5 years back.
The Interior Department has begun to open up a sliver of the eastern Gulf to drilling operations near the whales’ habitat. Most of the eastern Gulf remains off-limits to drilling due to a moratorium.
Bryde’s whales can be seen in the tropical waters over the globe, but the population in the Gulf countries has deemed likely a genetically separate species from other baleen whales. Scientists have the notion that there are less than 50 of the whales in Gulf. A recent survey found about 15 of the animals.
“Whenever you have a species down in their tens, it’s spooky in terms of their long-term survival,” said John Hildebrand, a whale specialist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.
Last year, a petition was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy group practicing seeking protection for the whales.
“There are so few of these animals left there is no doubt that they are at risk of extinction,” said Giulia C.S. Good Stefani, an NRDC attorney.
Jennie Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that the whales are already under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, thus it is a crime to intentionally harm the creature. But giving the status of endangered or threatened would give the regulators an opportunity to get critical habitat for whales, develop a recovery plan and consider their welfare before handing out oil drilling permits.
Five more whale species in the Gulf have been considered as endangered or dangerous since 1970. They are finback whale, blue whale, sperm whale and sei whale. Among these, sperm whales are the ones found in large nmbers in the Gulf 1,665 at the latest count according to Hildebrand.
Overall, 17 species are listed as threatened or endangered in the Gulf.