Marine Mammal Commission

Northern GOM Bryde's Whale

The Northern Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whale is the only year-round resident baleen whale in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico population is estimated at 33 animals and is genetically distinct from other populations found in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, making it potentially one of the most endangered of the baleen whales. They are found off Florida, in an area known as DeSoto Canyon.

Bryde's whale

Bryde's whale. Photo taken under NOAA research permit #779-1633. (NOAA)

Species Status

Bryde’s whales are found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Bryde’s whales in U.S. waters have been divided into three stocks: Eastern Tropical Pacific, Hawaiian, and Northern Gulf of Mexico. Although relatively common in other areas, the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock is estimated at only about 33 animals. They occur along the shelf break in waters 100 to 300 meters deep in the De Soto Canyon region of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, an area off the coast of the Florida Panhandle.

Genetic analyses have determined that the Gulf of Mexico stock is distinct from Bryde’s whale stocks found in other parts of the world, and has a very low level of genetic diversity. These factors led to a recent petition submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the Northern Gulf of Mexico stock as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Bryde’s whales were targeted by commercial whalers for their oil and blubber in the 1900’s, after many other large whale species became depleted. Between 1911 and 1987, over 30,000 Bryde’s whales were caught worldwide. Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico are currently threatened by collisions with vessels, acoustic disturbance from seismic airguns, military activities, and ship noise, and pollution from agricultural runoff and oil spills.

The Northern Gulf of Mexico stock is being monitored by visual surveys (aerial and shipboard) and acoustic monitoring of whale vocalizations.

What the Commission Is Doing

The Marine Mammal Commission is working with NMFS and other partners in the Gulf of Mexico to expand research and monitoring efforts for all marine mammals.

In April 2015, the Commission held a meeting to identify high priority, overarching data needs and to identify potential funding sources and opportunities for expanding marine mammal research and monitoring in the Gulf.

Commission Reports and Publications

Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammal Research and Monitoring Meeting Summary (April 2015)

Marine Mammal Commission, 2011. Assessing the Long-term Effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Marine Mammals in the Gulf of Mexico: A Statement of Research Needs.

Commission Letters

Letter Date Letter Description
December 4, 2015

Letter to Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees regarding the draft damage assessment and restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico

September 28, 2015

Letter to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council re: Draft Funded Priorities List for Gulf of Mexico restoration activities

July 9, 2013

Letter to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regarding the notice of intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement on geological and geophysical activities in the Gulf of Mexico

July 8, 2013

Letter to Department of Commerce/Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council regarding the initial draft comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico

December 28, 2012

Letter to NMFS regarding the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council’s development of a restoration plan to address injuries from the oil spill

Learn More

Threats

It is unclear whether Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico were subject to commercial whaling. However, the Gulf population is currently threatened by collisions with vessels, acoustic disturbance from seismic airguns, military activities, and ship noise, and pollution from agricultural runoff and oil spills.

Current Conservation Efforts

In September 2014, NMFS received a petition to list the Northern Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale stock under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS subsequently issued a notice announcing its determination that the petition was warranted, which prompted a status review of the stock to determine if the stock should be listed. That review and decision are pending.

The Future/Next Steps

NMFS has initiated a status review of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale. At the conclusion of the status review, NMFS will determine whether a listing of Bryde’s whale as endangered or threatened under the ESA is warranted.

In the interim, additional information regarding abundance, distribution, diet, habitat use, and stock structure and status in relation to other Bryde’s whale stocks would assist in the development of strategies to conserve and protect this stock from natural and human-caused threats. The number of species/stocks of Bryde’s whales in other parts of the world is still under study.

Additional Resources

NMFS Bryde’s Whale species page

NMFS 2013 Stock Assessment Report for Northern Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whale