The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rebecca Noblin, (907) 350-4822

Agency Launches Recovery Plans for Endangered Whales Along West Coast, Alaska

Plans Jump-started After Threat of Lawsuit


Following the Center for Biological Diversity's March 20 notice of intent to sue, the National Marine Fisheries Service today announced that it has begun preparing a recovery plan for the highly endangered North Pacific right whale. At the same time, the agency announced it would be updating its long-outdated recovery plan for endangered blue whales, the largest animals that have ever lived on Earth.

The North Pacific right whale is thought to be the world's most endangered large whale, with as few as 30 individuals in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and perhaps a few hundred in Russia's Okhotsk Sea. The blue whale is also among the more endangered of the large whales, with a population of about 1,700 animals occurring along the U.S. West Coast and smaller populations in the Atlantic and Southern oceans.

"The Fisheries Service is finally throwing North Pacific right whales a lifeline," said the Center's Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. "With just a few dozen of these animals left in Alaska, there's no question they need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act to have a chance of survival."

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fisheries Service is required to issue and implement a plan for the conservation and recovery of all ocean species listed by the Act. North Pacific right whales have been listed as "northern right whales" since 1973 and since 2008 as a species in their own right, but these critically endangered animals have had no recovery plan. On March 20 the Center sent the Fisheries Service a formal notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to protect the whales.

"Recovery plans are crucial tools for saving species from extinction and recovering them to the point that they don't need federal help anymore," said Noblin. "And species with these plans are far more likely to be recovering than species without them."

Dubbed right whales because they were the "right whale to hunt," North Pacific right whales numbered as many as 20,000 before the advent of commercial whaling. Today the few remaining individuals are extremely vulnerable to ship strikes, oil development and spills, and entanglement in fishing gear. With so few in existence, the loss of even one whale could threaten the entire population.

A previous blue whale recovery plan was prepared in 1998, but many key provisions have not been implemented. Any new plan must take bold action to address the threat of ship strikes, which have killed many whales in recent years: In 2007 alone, five blue whales died from ship strikes in Southern California.

Read more about the Center's campaign to protect North Pacific right whales.

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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