Posted on 04 December 2012.
Sierra Weaver, Senior Staff Attorney
Sierra on a whale watching boat (Credit: Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society)
One of my favorite work trips every year is to the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The fewer than 500 remaining North Atlantic right whales live almost exclusively in the coastal waters off the Eastern U.S. and Canada, and this annual meeting brings together the scientists, government officials and conservationists working to bring these highly endangered animals back from the brink of extinction. Defenders of Wildlife has long been a forerunner in the fight to address the leading threats to this species.
As I do every year, in November I presented to the Consortium on the efforts of Defenders and our conservation partners to ensure that right whales and the busy waters of the Eastern Seaboard that they call home are protected from increasing industrialization. There’s a lot happening right now on these fronts, so it was great to communicate to the scientists how their research is being used for right whale conservation, and the upcoming opportunities for them — and you — to weigh in on what’s needed to protect right whales.
Some things to watch for:
Speed Limits for Ships
Ship strikes are the leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales. In 2008, following years of pressure from Defenders and our partners, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) imposed the first-ever speed limits for large ships on the East Coast. These requirements give crew members more time to stop and avoid whales, and for whales to move out of their path. But the speed restrictions we fought so hard for will expire in December, 2013 unless the governments acts to extend them. Defenders and our partners petitioned NMFS in June to do just that, as well as to expand the restrictions to other times and places that right whales need protection. Making sure these rules stay in place and are as effective as possible is vital to right whale survival and recovery.
A right whale and her calf
Fishing Gear Entanglement
NMFS is scheduled to release a proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement in early- to mid-2013 on new measures to prevent right whales from being entangled in fishing gear. Entanglement can lead to the long and painful death of large whales as fishing lines cut into their blubber and limit their ability to feed and swim. I’m a member of the team advising NMFS on the entanglement problem, and am pushing strongly for the agency to take prompt action to protect right whales and other endangered species from this serious threat.
We’re also urging NMFS to move forward with proposed changes to the critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale. Defenders and our partners petitioned NMFS for expanded critical habitat back in 2009, calling for expanded protection of right whale breeding, calving and feeding grounds, and for the designation of their migratory corridor as critical habitat for the first time. When they failed to act on our petition, we took legal action, and NMFS promised a proposal before the end of 2011. We’re still waiting, but will continue our efforts to shake loose this important conservation measure.
North Atlantic right whales have a long road to recovery, and threats to the survival of the species abound. With your help, Defenders of Wildlife is continuing the fight to make our oceans a safer place for whales.
Posted in Features, Marine, North Atlantic Right Whale, Northeast, Species at Risk
Posted on 31 October 2011.
With less than 400 right whales left on the planet, the loss of even one individual could lead to extinction for the species.
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.
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).
- 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.
See what Defenders is doing to make waters safer for critically endangered right whales.
Posted in Features, Marine Animals, Northeast, Press Releases, Species at Risk