CORRESPONDENCE

Baleen whale species on brink of extinction for first time in 300 years

Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA.
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New England Aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

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The latest Critically Endangered list from the International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the Gulf of Mexico whale, a subspecies of Balaenoptera edeni (see go.nature.com/2bdntor). This mammal is at risk of being the first baleen whale to go extinct since the Atlantic grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) three centuries ago. Yet the animal’s new status has generated little public response.

The Gulf of Mexico whale is similar to Bryde’s and Eden’s whales (both also named B. edeni), but is genetically distinct from both. It is entirely confined to US waters in the Gulf of Mexico (see go.nature.com/2bdntor). Survey data put its abundance at 33 individuals in 2009, and modelling suggests that almost half its habitat was affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 (see go.nature.com/2e6joqe).

Rapid action is needed to eliminate sources of human-induced death and injury among these whales. A first step must be to raise society’s and scientists’ awareness of their status.

Nature 554, 169 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-01672-4
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