Right whale and calf, © NOAA

BREAKING: Groups Take Action to Prevent Illegal Deaths of Endangered Whales

BOSTON (October 31, 2011)— Conservation and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit today asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Each year, endangered whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear. Entanglement makes it harder for them to swim, feed and reproduce and it can cause a chronic infection or even drowning.

Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales. Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first time entanglements.

“Every single right whale counts when it comes to ensuring the species’ survival, but the Fisheries Service continues to place whales at risk of injury and death,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Safeguarding the right whale from entanglements in fishing gear is a vital step towards moving this species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”

“The Fisheries Service needs to take immediate action to put protections in place to make the fisheries safer. If they don’t act now, we will see the extinction of the right whale in our lifetime.”

“The Fisheries Service is well aware that North Atlantic right whales need better protections, yet it is allowing these fisheries to continue to operate without them,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fisheries Service needs to take immediate action to put protections in place to make the fisheries safer. If they don’t act now, we will see the extinction of the right whale in our lifetime.”

“In an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale depends on protecting each individual from entanglement-related injuries and deaths,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Right whale entanglement_With permission from EcoHealth Alliance

In January of this year, scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service attempted to save an entangled right whale, sedating her before removing the gear (Photo courtesy of EcoHealth Alliance).

Background:

  • The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has previously stated that the “loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.”
  • NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale’s survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely.
  • In addition to right whales, fishing gear used by the American lobster, northeast multispecies, monkfish, and spiny dogfish fisheries continues to injure and kill endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.
  • Today’s lawsuit was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the federal district court for Massachusetts.

Learn more:

See what Defenders is doing to make waters safer for critically endangered right whales.

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