Last year, scientists made an incredible discovery: a small, “unique” group of baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico that make up an entirely new species. The whales — weighing up to 60,000 pounds each — are considered among the most endangered whales in the world, and scientists say humans have pushed them “to the brink of extinction.”

The whales in question were once believed to be Bryde’s whales, which are also found in the Persian Gulf. But after years of careful research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that it was a Rice’s whale, also known as a Gulf of Mexico whale. They are the only baleen whales that inhabit the waters of the Persian Gulf.

The massive creatures can grow up to 41 feet – longer than a full-sized school bus – and are always found in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico between Louisiana and Florida.

Keith Rice

NOAA Fisheries

After the discovery, scientists warned that there were probably fewer than 100 of them left, and recent estimates put as few as 51. The recent findings prompted a group of 100 scientists — including professors from international universities, members of environmental organizations and former NOAA employees — to send letter to the Biden administration on Thursday calling for immediate action.

Because of human activities, they say, the “unique” whales may become extinct.

“Continued oil and gas development in the Persian Gulf represents a clear ongoing threat to the survival and recovery of whales,” the scientists said. “A government assessment of natural resource damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill shows that nearly 20% of Gulf of Mexico whales have been killed, and other animals suffer from reproductive failure and disease.”

In addition to the 2010 spill, the whales are also suffering from noise caused by seismic exploration for oil and gas, an activity that “dominates the acoustic environment” in the Gulf area where they live, scientists said.

Last month, the Biden administration reinstated the position 190 million dollars for companies bidding for oil and gas exploration in the Persian Gulf, according to The Washington Post. That money and the granting of 307 oil and gas leases were allocated as part of the surrender deal Law on reducing inflation, – the report says. The sale for rent area is the Gulf region between Texas and Alabama, borders and probably intersects with the home of Rice’s whales.

There is a government accepting comments on the impact of the sale of leasing on the environment until November 21.

Fishing gear and ocean debris also pose a significant threat, as do vessels, especially at night when whales rest in the top 50 feet of the ocean.

“One stranded whale, a lactating female, was found with injuries consistent with blunt force trauma,” the scientists said in their letter. “Another free-swimming individual had spinal deformities consistent with collision injuries.”

But there is hope, scientists say.

Gulf of Mexico whales are still breeding, and past studies of other baleen whales have shown that populations can recover as conditions in their environment improve.

“But Gulf of Mexico whales are on the brink of extinction,” they warned, “and measures are urgently needed to reduce mortality and serious injuries, as well as to mitigate human stressors.”

The scientists said their territory in the Persian Gulf should no longer be used for aquaculture, offshore wind farms or oil and gas development, and the courts should be required to slow down. They also said drilling should be banned in areas outside the whales’ habitat, such as the Mississippi Canyon, because it poses a “catastrophic threat to the species.”

The Biden administration’s current plans to continue seismic exploration and drilling in the northern Persian Gulf, as well as the possibility of offshore oil and gas leasing in the area, will hinder the whales’ ability to survive, they added.

CBS News reached out to people in the Biden administration, including NOAA and the Interior Department, for comment.

“Gulf of Mexico whales are a unique part of the Gulf’s natural history and the only large whale species that resides year-round in United States waters. Nevertheless, several measures have been introduced on the water to protect them,” the scientists concluded. “Unless significant conservation action is taken, the United States is likely to cause the first anthropogenic extinction of a large cetacean species.”

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