Formerly known as the "Gulf of Mexico sub-population" of Bryde's whales, Rice's whale was identified as a separate species in 2021.
From the skull of an individual that stranded in 2019, scientists identified characteristics that distinguish them as a new species. It is named after the late biologist Dale Rice, the first researcher to recognize its presence in the Gulf of Mexico.
IUCN conservation status: Critically endangered
What do Rice's whales look like?
Little is known about this newly recognised species however from individuals that have been sighted in the northern Gulf of Mexico, they are known to have a streamlined body with a pointed and flat head upon which are three ridges. Their baleen has not been studied in any detail however one stranded individual presented with dark gray to black baleen with white bristles. They have a comparatively large dorsal fin upon a dark coloured upper body and a paler belly, similar to other Bryde’s whales. White chevrons, one characteristic which is common in some other members of the balaenopteridae family, is absent in Rice’s whales.
What’s life like for a Rice's whale?
Rice's whales are typically sighted alone or in pairs. Occasionally they form larger loose groups believed to be associated with feeding activities. They are known to make daytime foraging dives as deep as 271 m, while at night they typically stay within 15m of the surface.
What do Rice's whales eat?
As with the other large baleen whales, Rice's whales are thought to eat microscopic prey, mostly consisting of plankton, krill and copepods (tiny crustaceans). Although little is known about the specific feeding habits of Rice’s whale, as with other Bryde’s whales, they are thought to also feast on bigger crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps, as well as a variety of small schooling fish.
Where do Rice's whales live?
Formerly known as the Gulf of Mexico sub-population of the Bryde's whale, this species is only known to be found in the north-east of the Gulf of Mexico. In the past it may be that the species inhabited the entire Gulf of Mexico , however, in modern times, they have only been sighted in a small area of the gulf of the southeast of the United States. This area is characterised by a continental shelf between 100 m to 400 m deep and unlike other species of whale known to frequent the area at different times of the year, Rice’s whale are non-migratory and remain in the area all year round.
Rice's whale need your help
As the Gulf of Mexico is highly frequented by human activities, this newly discovered species is already critically endangered due to several threats.
The main threats...
- Ship strikes - Vessel traffic is intense in the Gulf of Mexico and therefor there is a high risk of collisions between whales and ships.
- Noise pollution - Rice's whales rely on sound to navigate and communicate. Noise from military sonar, oil and gas drilling and exploration and shipping can disrupt and confuse them and even cause them to strand.
- Pollution - toxic chemicals from plastic, litter and oil spills build up in Rice's whales seriously harming their health and their ability to have young.
- Fishing gear - Rice's whales can accidentally get caught in fishing nets and lines, injuring or even killing them.
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