A new species of whale has been identified in an underwater canyon in the Gulf of Mexico, but scientists fear they won't have long to get to know it: There are only about 50 of the unique species of Bryde's whale left in waters off the Florida Panhandle, and their DeSoto Canyon habitat is in severe danger from the oil industry and other threats, making it possibly the most endangered animal in the world, reports the Houston Chronicle. Researchers have found that the whales have more in common genetically with Bryde's whales in the Pacific than their cousins in the Atlantic. They also have a unique call, says the chief of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is petitioning to have the whales listed as an endangered species.
Genetic testing has revealed that there used to be a lot more of the whales, the only species of baleen whale to live in the Gulf year-round, the NRDC spokesman tells the Mother Nature Network. "It's possible humans were involved in the decline, through whaling or industrial activities," he says, noting that toxicology tests on one of the whales revealed very high levels of the toxic metals released in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the adjacent underwater canyon. The single canyon where they now live is the "whale equivalent of a postage stamp," he says, and the "massive industrialization" of the surrounding area "threatens them six ways to Sunday." (Meanwhile, a key Florida habitat for endangered species on land is getting a Walmart.)