For decades, scientists observed a puzzling group of whales in the Gulf of Mexico. The animals looked like Bryde’s whales — but not quite. They fed like Bryde’s whales — but at greater depths. What were they? With genetic data and a chance stranding, the scientists finally have their answer. The so-called Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale is actually a unique species — and for years, it hid in plain sight. A Rice’s whale swims in the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of NOAA. Patience leads to discovery Researchers first reported a Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broo-dus,” Balaenoptera edeni) in the Gulf of Mexico in 1965 and began tracking a small group of the animals in earnest in 1997. Survey data eventually showed the group lived year-round in the Gulf of Mexico, keeping to a small area along the continental shelf near Florida’s panhandle. Noting the differences from either of the two recognized subspecies of Bryde’s whale, which live in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, they suspected the whales in the Gulf might belong to a unique species all their own. In 2014, researchers with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published the results of a DNA analysis showing that the whales in the Gulf were genetically distinct enough to at least be designated as the third subspecies of Bryde’s whale, if not their own species. “That is when we got really intrigued by how different they look genetically,” said lead author Patricia Rosel, a research geneticist at…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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