| For Immediate Release: July 6, 2006
Habitat Protected for World’s Most Imperiled Whale
San Francisco, Calif. — In response to a strongly-worded court opinion that criticized the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect the world’s most imperiled whale, the agency announced today that it is protecting almost 37,000 square miles of critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
In issuing its final determination, the National Marine Fisheries Service (a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce) rebuked claims from opponents of the Endangered Species Act, finding that protecting critical habitat is essential to the conservation of right whales and that “the economic impacts do not outweigh the benefits of designating critical habitat.”
“Today’s announcement is an important step toward right whale recovery,” said Brent Plater, author of the original petition to protect right whale habitats in the Bering Sea and an attorney in the case to protect it. “But there is little time to waste. The Minerals Management Service, Department of Commerce and all other federal agencies should immediately begin cooperating and consulting with right whale experts to ensure that right whales and their habitats are protected.”
The Endangered Species Act is a federal law providing a safety net for fish, wildlife and plants that are on the brink of extinction. The law recognizes that one of the most effective ways to protect imperiled species is to protect the places they live, and recent scientific reports confirm that species with their critical habitats protected are twice as likely to be recovering as those species without their critical habitats protected.
The North Pacific right whale is so rare that in the 1980s a sighting of a single individual was deemed worthy of publication in scientific journals. However, beginning in 1996 scientists began to see a congregation of right whales annually in the Bering Sea, and in 2004 scientists found more right whales in this area than were found in the previous five years.
In light of these remarkable sightings, in 2000 the Center for Biological Diversity formally requested that NMFS protect the right whale’s “critical habitat” as required by the federal Endangered Species Act. However, NMFS refused to protect any habitat for the whale, even though the species’ critical summertime habitats had been discovered. The Center then requested that NMFS reconsider its determination, but the agency never responded to any of the Center’s requests. The Center was thus left with no choice but to initiate litigation in late 2004 to ensure that the Right Whale’s recovery was not impeded.
“The right whale was nearly hunted to extinction, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure that this species survives,” said Plater. “We owe it to future generations to protect this special creature, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to protect the places the whales call home.”
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