A dead whale that washed up in Florida’s Everglades National Park in 2019 has helped researchers confirm the existence of a new species of the marine mammal that lives in the Gulf of Mexico, Fox23 reports. In the 1990s, per NPR, scientists discovered a small whale population living in the gulf year-around. Initially, they were believed to be Bryde’s whales, a species of baleen whale that lives in warm waters throughout the world. Genetic data from the whales living in the gulf, however, “was quite different from other whales,” NOAA Fisheries said in a statement.
“But, to do a species designation, you want to be able to do multiple lines of evidence, and common for marine mammals, that other line of evidence for identifying a new species is skull morphology,” researcher Patricia Rosel tells the Miami Herald. The skull of a 38-foot whale that washed up in the Everglades helped scientists confirm the new species, which has been named Rice’s whale in honor of biologist Dale Rice. There are fewer than 100 of the whales living, per NOAA, and if the name of the new species is accepted by the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s taxonomy committee, the agency will add Rice’s whale to the endangered species list. (Read more whales stories.)