Increased Habitat Protection Proposed for Endangered Right Whales

For Immediate Release


Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 327-2344,
Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3274,
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDCS, (508) 451-3853,

Increased Habitat Protection Proposed for Endangered Right Whales

BOSTON, MA - The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will expand critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales,
which are clinging to survival with fewer than 400 individuals
remaining. The action comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed
earlier this year by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of
Wildlife, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Humane Society of
the United States.

“Protecting key calving and migration habitat is
essential to the continued survival of this species,” said Sarah
Uhlemann, a staff attorney with the Center. “With a population of only
400 animals, every whale — and every square mile of protected habitat —

The lawsuit challenged the agency’s failure to respond to
the wildlife groups’ August 2009 petition, which sought to expand
current critical habitat protections because areas located off the
coast of New England and the Georgia-Florida border are inadequate to
recover the whales. The government’s announcement today confirmed the
need to expand protected areas; the agency will propose new boundaries
next year.

“Critical habitat ensures precautions are taken when
potentially dangerous activities like oil drilling and commercial
shipping are being planned and carried out,” said Sierra Weaver, an
attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Because these animals share our
busy Atlantic coastal waters, we need to make sure that risky
activities in the places they call home aren’t going to hinder their
ability to return to a sustainable population.”

“You can’t protect a species without also protecting
what it needs to survive,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a senior
biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. “Current
critical habitat boundaries are akin to protecting our children in
certain areas of their schools and specific rooms in their homes with
no protection for them as they move between home and school. What we
need is full protection in the areas where right whales feed, calve and
the migratory route between those areas.”    

“We should not have to sue to ensure that
the government protects one of our nation’s most vulnerable species,”
said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for The Humane
Society of the United States. “But we are willing to do what it takes
to keep this species from dying out.”


  • Right whales migrate from their calving grounds off
    the southeastern United States to their feeding grounds off the
    Northeast and Canada. Adult females reproduce slowly, reaching
    reproductive maturity around age eight and giving birth to one calf
    every four years.
  • The only known calving ground for North Atlantic
    right whales is off the coast of Georgia and Florida, with documented
    births outside of the area currently designated as critical habitat. In
    2008, 18 of 19 newborn calves documented were in areas just outside
    the protected zone.
  • Each year female right whales die from being hit by
    ships or entanglement in commercial fishing gear in unprotected areas.
    In one 18-month period, three pregnant females and their full-term young
    died after being hit by ships outside their critical habitat.
  • Although the Endangered Species Act requires that the
    government respond to petitions within 90 days of their receipt, the
    Fisheries Service did not respond to the August 2009 petition until this
    week, after a lawsuit was filed to compel the agency’s response.

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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