Groups call on NMFS to take immediate action to protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction
“To say the last 12 months have been devastating to right whales is an understatement,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, biologist for the IWC and WDCS. “The incoming Secretary of Commerce must take immediate action or else leave a legacy of overseeing the extinction of a majestic species.”
The most significant threats to right whales, and the greatest source of
mortality, are shipping and fishing activities. Shipping and fishing are
prevalent in the species’ breeding, feeding, and migratory corridors along the
eastern seaboard of the U.S. About 72% of whales bare scars from entanglements
in fishing line. Incredibly, six right whales were reported entangled in 2004
with four of those animals trapped in the gear since 2002. Entanglement in
fishing line can quickly result in death as the line may often become embedded
in the whales flesh, leading to infection, or starvation as the gear prevents
the feeding, diving and other life activities of the whale. One to three right
whales are killed by ship strikes annually, and an unknown number of animals
lost at sea.
Under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is obligated to protect the species from harmful human activities. The NMFS acknowledges that if a single North Atlantic right whale is killed by anthropogenic causes each year, the entire species may go extinct. In last 12 months alone, at least five right whales were found dead, including three full-term, pregnant females believed killed by ship strikes. The tragic loss of these five animals does not even take into consideration the number of right whales that may have been struck and lost at sea, or entangled in fishing gear.
NMFS has still not issued its proposed fishing regulations to minimize the risk of entanglements (scheduled for release in March of 2004) and there are currently no mandates requiring ships to alter course or change speed in right whale habitats.
“Each death is a tragic loss,” said Erin Heskett, Senior Program Officer for IFAW. “NMFS needs to immediately implement shipping regulations, such as speed restrictions and re-routing before this entire species disappears right before our eyes. This is not a question of waiting until we have more information; if there was ever a case for precaution, this is it.”
About IWC (The International Wildlife
IWC is a US based wildlife protection organization founded to challenge the needless deaths and abuses to wild animals world-wide. IWC has representatives in the US, Canada, Kenya, and Brazil.
About WDCS (The Whale and Dolphin
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is an international charity dedicated to the protection of whales, dolphins and their environment. WDCS maintains offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina and Germany.