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No Bryde's for the future?

By Paul Robinson - 04 Oct 2014 8:18:0 GMT
No Bryde's for the future?

We may not see much more of the northern Caribbean whales that turn out to be a unique species - too late it seems, unless protection is given; Bryde’s whale image; Credit: © Southeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA

Johan Bryde (say it in Norwegian as Brooder) was the consul in South Africa who set up a whaling station there, but his whale outlives him. The Tropical whale or Bryde’s whale is a uniquely small species that feeds on larger prey than its plankton-devouring relatives the Balanopteridae, like the sei, the blue and the fin whale.

Bryde’s lives as quite small, restricted populations off southern Africa, in the Indo-Pacific and as a very small, really isolated group in the north of the Gulf of Mexico. This group live in the deep areas off the Florida panhandle and number no more than 50. The genetic isolation alone would be enough to endanger such a slow breeding animal, but fears have now been expressed that we’re losing them to contaminated water. The heavy industry in the area is polluting the Gulf even more than the terrible Deepwater Horizon oil spill that BP perpetrated in the Mississippi Canyon nearby. The Bryde’s live in the adjacent De Soto Canyon.

The US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have declared the sub-species to be, “in difficult straits.” Having been found genetically unique, and having a unique whale call, “signature,” this could be the most endangered whale, or even mammal, in the world. Yet we continue polluting the sea as if no harm ever came to it. They are petitioning for the US to list the species as endangered, which will automatically entitle the whale to protection. In fact, they must also be classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. This could apply to the other populations, if they are also as unique as this small band of survivors.

We should probably have listened to the whales, as suggested in this 2011 story where crowdsourcing was suggested as a solution to identifying whale calls like that of the unique Bryde’s whale in Whales are calling.