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Cain Burdeau, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, May 10, 2015 10:03AM EDT

NEW ORLEANS — U.S. regulators say a unique species of baleen whales in the Gulf of Mexico may be threatened with extinction and could get special protection.

In April, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it was looking at granting endangered or threatened status to the small population of Bryde's whales (pronounced Bru-dihs whales) that live in the DeSoto Canyon region, a deep-water area 50 miles (80 kilometres) east of the BP's catastrophic oil spill five years ago.

The Interior Department has begun to open up a sliver of the eastern Gulf to drilling operations near the whales' habitat. Most of the eastern Gulf remains off-limits to drilling due to a moratorium.