2023 Rice's Whale Scientific Symposium
NOAA Fisheries and our partners invite the public to the scientific symposium Whales on the Brink: Stories from the Rice’s Whale Discovery and Right Whale Tales and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.
Join us in celebrating Rice’s whales, large whale conservation efforts, and the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act! Rice’s whales were newly identified in 2021. With fewer than 100 individuals estimated remaining, the species is one of the most endangered whales in the world.
The symposium will feature experts from the marine mammal scientific research, conservation, and management communities who have pioneered the tools and techniques used to study whales. It will highlight results to date from their research and how the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act are successfully facilitating conservation of large whales.
Rice’s whales were previously assumed to be a part of the broadly distributed Bryde’s whale complex. In the 2000s, scientists with NOAA Fisheries used genetics to determine that the Gulf of Mexico population is distinct from other Bryde’s whale populations. So genetically distinct, in fact, that it was considered a new species—but without a holotype specimen, a new designation could not be made. In 2019, marine mammal health and stranding network responders recovered a baleen whale stranded in the Everglades National Park in Florida. The complete skeleton and baleen from this whale were transferred to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and it serves as the holotype for the species. In 2021, scientists named the newly identified species Rice’s whale (Balaenoptera ricei) in honor of renowned marine mammal biologist Dale Rice, who first documented the species in 1965.
NOAA Fisheries collaborates with researchers, conservation groups, industry, and other government agencies to learn more about Rice’s whale and help the species recover. The most significant threats to the species are energy development, oil spills, vessel strikes, and ocean noise. With such a small population size, the death of a single whale could have devastating consequences for the population’s recovery. North Pacific right whales (Eubalaena japonica) and North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) face similar threats from human activities. There are important lessons from conservation efforts that can be shared among these three species.