Wildlife Advocates File Suit to Protect World's Most Endangered Whale

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x306; atreece@biologicaldiversity.org
Kristen Eastman, The HSUS, (301) 721-6440; keverett@humanesociety.org
Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3274; sweaver@defenders.org
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDCS, (508) 451-3853; regina.asmutis-silvia@wdcs.org

Wildlife Advocates File Suit to Protect World's Most Endangered Whale

BOSTON, MA - Litigation filed today in federal court seeks to expand habitat
protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale to include the whale’s
nursery, breeding and feeding grounds. The
lawsuit
was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity,
Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, and
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Despite being listed under the Endangered Species Act
more than three decades ago, the North Atlantic right whale’s
population still numbers only around 350 individual animals, making it
one of the world’s most endangered whales.

“Each year, more whales are found wrapped in fishing
gear or mortally wounded by ships,” said Sharon Young, marine issues
field director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Every
whale – and every square mile of protected habitat – counts when the
population is so low.”

The lawsuit challenges the National Marine Fisheries
Service’s failure to respond to the groups’ 2009 legal petition seeking
expanded critical habitat for the species under the Endangered Species
Act. By law, the agency is required to take action on such a petition
within 90 days.

“Critical habitat protections have a proven track record
of helping endangered species to survive,” said Andrea Treece, a
senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The North
Atlantic right whale is on the edge of extinction, and further delay of
habitat protection may seal the species’ fate.”

The groups’ petition seeks expanded protection for
calving grounds off of Georgia and northern Florida, protection for
critical feeding habitat off the Northeast, and protections for the
migratory route between calving and feeding grounds. In areas
designated as critical habitat, the federal government must take special
precautions to ensure that activities such as oil drilling, commercial
fishing, military training, and vessel traffic will not diminish the
value of the habitat in a way that will impair the recovery of the
species.

“The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has
shown that industrial activities in the ocean can affect not only the
animals themselves, but the entire environment in which they live,” said
Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “A similar
catastrophe off the east coast of Georgia or Florida could make
uninhabitable the only place on earth that right whales give birth to
their young. The government must consider such risks when deciding if
and where to permit these types of activities.”

The primary threats to imperiled right whales are ship
strikes, entanglement in commercial fishing gear, habitat degradation,
rising noise levels, 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 Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior
biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Background

  • The lawsuit was filed in the District of
    Massachusetts federal court in Boston.
  • The North Atlantic right whale population was
    decimated by centuries of commercial whaling, and despite being
    protected since 1970, has not recovered.
  • Scientists estimate that if current trends continue,
    the population could go extinct in fewer than 200 years.
  • The whales, reaching 55 feet in length, migrate from
    their calving grounds off the southeastern United States to their
    feeding grounds off the northeastern United States and Canada. Adult
    female right whales reproduce slowly – they give birth to one calf every
    four years and do not reach reproductive maturity until age eight.
  • Fishing gear entanglement and vessel strikes have
    killed or seriously injured at least 18 right whales since 2004.
###

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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