We are discovering new species of animals and so forth all the time, but this enormous whale went without being spotted for so long its identification is mind-blowing. This species is known as the Rice whale now, and it is quite large.
While this whale became stranded back in 2019 information on it has only now been processed properly and brought to light. The Smithsonian Magazine just days ago wrote on this topic and put some much-needed answers forth. We now know that the Rice whale can reach up to 42 feet in length and the one that was stranded back in 2019 was about 38 feet. This species was until this incident previously unknown.
A study covering this whale and its discovery according to The Smithsonian Magazine was published about a month ago within the journal Marine Mammal Science. This breaking down just how endangered they are as there could very well be as few as around 100 present in the wild at this point. The Rice whale seems to be a new species of baleen whale and as noted above was found in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida.
The abstract for the study noted above goes as follows:
Bryde’s‐like whales are a complex of medium‐sized baleen whales that occur in tropical waters of all three major ocean basins. Currently, a single species of Bryde’s whale, Balaenoptera edeni Anderson, 1879, is recognized, with two subspecies, Eden’s whale, B. edeni edeni and Bryde’s whale, B. edeni brydei (Olsen, 1913), although some authors have recognized these as separate species. Recently, a new, evolutionarily divergent lineage of Bryde’s‐like whale was identified based on genetic data and was found to be restricted primarily to the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOMx). Here, we provide the first morphological examination of a complete skull from these whales and identify diagnostic characters that distinguish it from the other medium‐sized baleen whale taxa. In addition, we have increased the number of genetic samples of these Bryde’s‐like whales in the GOMx from 23 to 36 individuals, all of which matched the GOMx lineage. A review of Bryde’s‐like whale records in the Caribbean and greater Atlantic supports an isolated distribution for this unique lineage, augmenting the genetic and morphological body of evidence supporting the existence of an undescribed species of Balaenoptera from the Gulf of Mexico.
While this might not sound like much to some, it is an amazing discovery that most of us were not expecting. It’s not every day that you stumble across a whale that’s stuck outside of water, let alone one that is of a species we’ve never seen before within reason. After a lot of analysis, a lot of things were brought out in the open about this marvelous creature.
The Smithsonian Magazine wrote as follows going over this topic:
Dale Rice, a marine mammal scientist with a storied 60-year career, is the new species’ namesake. Rice recognized that a small population of whales was living in the northeastern part of the Gulf of Mexico year-round in the 1990s. But at the time, the assumption was that these were a sub-population of Bryde’s whales, reports Greg Allen for NPR.
In 2008, NOAA scientists conducted a genetic analysis of tissue samples from the mysterious Gulf population. That analysis suggested the population was genetically distinct from other Bryde’s whales, reports Michael Marshall of New Scientist.
“But we didn’t have a skull,” Patricia Rosel, a geneticist at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the paper, tells New Scientist. A skull, Rosel says, is essential to establishing a new species of whale.
When a fisher spotted a 38-foot carcass near Sandy Key in 2019, measurements and other data from the necropsy suggested it was worth a closer look.
“Through some really enormous efforts of the stranding network to respond to that dead whale…and save it and preserve it, we were finally able to look at the skull morphology and make comparisons to those other Bryde’s whales,” Rosel tells NPR.
To clean the massive skeleton for study, NOAA scientists and members of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network buried it underground at Fort De Soto Park for several months, and finally unearthed the bones and shipped them to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History where Rosel and others were able to study the specimen in detail.
The skull revealed tell-tale anatomical divergences from Bryde’s whale, in particular, bones atop the skull surrounding the animal’s blowhole, according to the Tampa Bay Times.