21 August 2013 A Victory for Endangered Atlantic Whales Posted by: Jane Davenport | 6 comments | Share: Jane Davenport, Senior Staff Attorney This month, Defenders of Wildlife and its allies announced a vital litigation victory in the ongoing battle to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from lethal entanglements in commercial lobster fishing gear. The settlement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) came after Defenders and our co-plaintiffs challenged NMFS on its failure to protect right whales. It’s also an important step forward in protecting humpback, fin, and sei whales, all endangered and all at risk of entanglement. Atlantic right whales face two major threats: collisions with large ships (ship strikes) and entanglements with commercial fishing gear. Every year, whales run a dangerous gauntlet as they follow their age-old migratory paths up and down the East Coast from Florida to Canada. This route takes them through some of the busiest shipping lanes and the most heavily fished areas in the United States. Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service attempt to save an entangled right whale. (Photo courtesy of EcoHealth Alliance) Like all marine mammals, whales need to surface to breathe air. If they become entangled in fishing gear, such as nets and buoy lines, they will drown if they cannot reach the surface. Entangled whales also face slow, lingering deaths from infections or starvation, and become more vulnerable to ship strikes because of their impaired ability to swim while dragging heavy lines and gear. Despite heroic efforts to rescue entangled whales, not all of them can be identified and freed from their lethal burdens in time to save their lives. Endangered whales are protected by some of our nation’s strongest environmental laws: the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But the National Marine Fisheries Service has continued to authorize the current operation and management of the American lobster fishery under these statutes, despite the fact that vertical lines running from the buoys at the ocean’s surface down to lobster pots and other gear on the ocean floor are responsible for entangling many whales each year. Defenders and our allies challenged this practice, arguing that NMFS needs to create and enforce new regulations to reduce entanglement, not continue to allow the lobster fishery to endanger whales. Incredibly, NMFS had actually recognized the critical need for new regulations to prevent whale entanglements back in 2003. The agency’s foot-dragging has resulted in dozens of whales dying cruel and needless deaths and has hindered species recovery over the past decade. It needs to end, now. Under the new settlement agreement reached this month, the agency must publish a final decision on a vertical line regulation by July 1, 2014. The settlement also requires the agency to conduct a new analysis under the Endangered Species Act of whether continuing to operate the American lobster fishery will jeopardize the survival and recovery of the four endangered whale species. Right whale and calf, photo courtesy NOAA The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most critically imperiled whale species in the world. Out of a population once numbering in the tens of thousands, fewer than 500 right whales survive. The loss of even a single right whale pushes the species ever closer to the brink of extinction. If current trends continue, scientists estimate, the species will become extinct in less than 200 years. Humpback whales, fin whales, and sei whales are also at risk of extinction, their numbers historically decimated by whaling and still nowhere near recovered despite decades of legal protection. Together with our allies, Defenders of Wildlife has long been active in advocating and litigating to ensure that endangered whales are protected to the fullest extent of the law. Although we have won an important battle with this settlement agreement, we must continue our vigilance and be prepared to return to court in the fight to protect these magnificent creatures. 6 Responses to “A Victory for Endangered Atlantic Whales” Alex August 22nd, 2013 Congratulations…but, sadly, all of this may be for naught. With the Navy’s plans to build a vast sonar testing range in the only known calving grounds of the right whale (offshore Jacksonville, FL) I’m very much afraid that they will be eradicated. Reply Suzanne September 15th, 2013 Aw, jeez, Alex…Lets hope not. KAREN BIS September 15th, 2013 We must all unite to STOP the NAVY building this sonar testing range ASAP! Reply karla price September 15th, 2013 We must continue to try and not give up. WE are the watchdogs of these beautiful animals, and dedication and money will continue to help. Reply Matt Johnson September 16th, 2013 We can’t fail at this. Please continue the work that you’re doing. It’s partially because of stories like this, wolf killing, etc that I’ve decided to eat a plant based vegan diet. I suggest you all consider the same thing as it’s been an easy transition and I no longer need to support industries that are ecological nightmares. Reply valda purvis. September 17th, 2013 Why does the navy have to build this sonar testing range in the only place the whales calve?-why can’t they have it somewhere else? doesn’t make sense-it will only add to the early demise of these magnificent animals. Reply Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up Idaho’s War on Wolves is Taking its Toll; Project Leader for Yellowstone Wolf Program Tells All; Congresswoman Pushes Forward With Plan To Remove Protections for Wyoming and Great Lakes Wolves; Wolf Killed in Montana’s Wolf Hunt Breaking News: Senate Almost Believes in Science The U.S. Senate saying in a 98-1 vote that “climate change is real and is not a hoax” is a pretty big deal. Smallest Cetacean on the Brink of Extinction in Mexico With the rapid decline of the rare vaquitas, we are hopeful that the Mexican government will commit to preserving this unique animal.