Groups Ask for More Critical Habitat for Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 306, atreece@biologicaldiversity.org
Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3274, sweaver@defenders.org
Kristen Eastman, HSUS, (301) 721-6440, keastman@humanesociety.org Kelly Ricaurte, Ocean Conservancy, (202) 351-0482, kricaurte@oceanconservancy.org
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDCS, (508) 451-3853, regina.asmutis-silvia@wdcs.org

Groups Ask for More Critical Habitat for Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale

WASHINGTON - Today, conservation and animal welfare groups filed a
formal request to expand protected habitat for the critically
endangered North Atlantic right whale. The petition,
filed with the National Marine Fisheries Service, demonstrates
scientific support for expanding existing critical habitat in areas
that are essential to the feeding, mating, calving, nursing, and
migration for the fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining
in existence.  

The Fisheries Service has publicly
stated that the death of a single right whale may contribute to the
species' extinction. Researchers predict right whales are certain to go
extinct if the current rate of mortality and serious injury continues.
However, saving just two female right whales a year could put the
species on a positive path for recovery.

"Every
single right whale counts when it comes to ensuring this species'
survival," said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The
Humane Society of the United States. "Protecting the right whale's
vital feeding, nursery, and migratory habitat is the most basic, common
sense step toward moving this species out of the emergency room and
onto the path to recovery."

The groups charge that
current critical habitat boundaries are inadequate to provide for the
survival and recovery of one of the most endangered animals on the
planet. Once an area is designated as critical habitat, federal
agencies must ensure that their actions will not adversely modify or
destroy such habitat.

"Saying you're protecting
right whales without sufficiently protecting their habitat is akin to
saying you are going to protect sun-fish while you drain the pond,"
said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist with the Whale and Dolphin
Conservation Society. "Without protecting the places where right whales
live, we cannot, in reality, save the species."

"Expanding
critical habitat for right whales will ensure that we make intelligent,
well-informed decisions about how we use and share our country's marine
resources," said Sierra Weaver, attorney with Defenders of Wildlife.
"This isn't about walling off the ocean, but rather about looking
closely at the impacts of our actions on one of our most iconic
wildlife species."

The groups request that three
areas used by North Atlantic right whales for essential life functions
be added as critical habitat. The petition seeks to expand critical
habitat in the whales' only known calving grounds off the coast of
northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and in the whales'
feeding and nursery grounds throughout the Gulf of Maine. The petition
also calls for adding the migration route between the calving and
wintering grounds as critical habitat.

"The
current critical habitat designated for right whales only protects bits
and pieces of the most essential feeding and nursery habitat for the
species, and doesn't protect migratory habitat at all," said Andrea
Treece, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "If
we're going to save the right whale, we have to provide a way for right
whale mothers to safely shepherd their young between feeding and
nursery grounds."

Despite being listed as endangered
since the early 1970s, right whales continue to face serious threats
throughout their range. Fishing gear entanglement and vessel strikes
are the two most significant threats, killing or injuring at least 18
whales since 2004. Other threats include noise from vessel traffic,
marine construction, and sonar; offshore energy development; global
warming; ocean acidification; and pollution.

 "In
an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North
Atlantic right whale depends on the protection of its essential habitat
areas," said Vicki Cornish, director of Marine Wildlife Policy with
Ocean Conservancy. "Our demand for ocean resources is increasing, and
we must consider the impact we have on the animals that call the ocean
home. Protecting the most vital places for the survival of the North
Atlantic right whale will help protect the species for generations to
come."

The Endangered Species Act requires the agency to respond to the groups' request within 90 days.

Facts:

  • The
    petition for expanded right whale critical habitat was filed on behalf
    of The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife,
    Center for Biological Diversity, Ocean Conservancy, and the Whale and
    Dolphin Conservation Society.
  • The North Atlantic
    right whale is a critically endangered marine animal once hunted to
    near extinction by whalers. The population has struggled to recover,
    and now fewer than 400 of North Atlantic right whales remain.
  • Adult
    female right whales reproduce slowly - they give birth to one calf
    every three to four years and do not reach reproductive maturity until
    age 8.
  • Maps of the areas proposed for critical habitat can be found here.
###

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the nation's largest animal protection organization - backed by nearly 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty -- On the web at humanesociety.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. For more information, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org.

Ocean Conservancy is the world's foremost advocate for the oceans. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, we inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Ocean Conservancy is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has offices in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific, with support from more than half a million members and volunteers. Ocean Conservancy is on the Web at www.oceanconservancy.org.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (North America) Inc. (WDCS) is the global voice for the protection of whales and dolphins and their environment. It is based in Plymouth, MA and is part of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a charity registered in England with additional offices in Germany, Argentina and Australia. For further information please visit www.whales.org.

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