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New Species

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In January 2019 38-foot-long (11.5 meters) whale that washed ashore in the Florida. Scientists say this is a completely new species that is already considered endangered. Initially scientists thought it was a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale, a baleen whale species in the same group that includes humpback and blue whales. That subspecies was named Rice’s whale. Now, after genetic analysis of other Rice’s whales along with an examination of the skull from the Everglades whale, researchers think that, rather than a subspecies, the Rice’s whale is an entirely new species that lives in the Gulf of Mexico.

The discovery, detailed January 10 in the journal Marine Mammal Science, also means that there are fewer than 100 members of this species living on the planet, making them “critically endangered.”

In addition to having different skulls, Rice’s whales are slightly different in size than Bryde’s whales, the new analysis showed. They can weigh up to 60,000 pounds (27,215 kilograms) and grow up to 42 feet (12.8 meters) long, according to NOAA, whereas Bryde’s whales have been known to reach upwards of 50 feet (15.2 m) and weigh more than 55,000 pounds (24,947 kg).

Given their location in the Gulf of Mexico, Rice’s whales are particularly vulnerable to oil spills, vessel strikes and energy exploration and production.

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