YARMOUTH PORT, MA -- December 3 -- IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare -- http://www.ifaw.org ) today called for swift government action after a Navy ship struck and killed a pregnant North Atlantic right whale off the coast of North Carolina. IFAW and other experts nationwide have repeatedly cited these so called "ship strikes" as the greatest known cause of right whale mortality in the North Atlantic and are now calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to finally implement the draft ship strike strategy recently released to address this problem.
Ship strikes continue to push right whales toward extinction. Earlier this year another pregnant right whale was killed along the Georgia coastline in a similar accident. These four deaths (two breeding females and two unborn calves) represent a massive loss to a critically endangered species with a population of less than 350 animals.
"This is yet another needless tragedy for a species already fighting for its life," said IFAW Senior Program Officer Erin Heskett. "NMFS is sitting on its hands. How many more endangered right whales must die before desperately needed regulations are implemented and enforced?"
"The National Marine Fisheries Service has been deliberating over proposed regulations since August of 2001," said Heskett. "Time is running out and the last right whales are literally being run over. Leadership and a comprehensive strategy are desperately needed, including measures such as speed restrictions, shipping lane adjustments during annual migrations and other avoidance measures. We hope incoming Commerce Secretary Gutierrez will accelerate this process."
Given the involvement of U.S. Navy vessels in several recent incidents, IFAW is calling for immediate consultations among relevant Federal agencies under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. At present, government vessels, including Department of Defense (DoD) vessels are not addressed in the proposed NMFS strategy. "This is the 21st century," Heskett said. "There are practical approaches based on available technology that can protect right whales without compromising national security. It's time for them to be implemented."
IFAW, which has its international headquarters on Cape Cod, works with state, federal, private and non-profit entities to develop innovative approaches to protecting right whales and their habitat. Most recently, IFAW has partnered with the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to provide economic subsidies for whale friendly lobster gear and prevent entanglements in critical right whale habitat.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW is an international animal welfare and conservation organization that works to protect wild and domestic animals and to broker solutions that benefit both animals and people. With offices in 15 countries around the world, IFAW works to protect whales, elephants, great apes, big cats, dogs and cats, seals, and other animals. To learn how to help animals, please visit http://www.ifaw.org.