Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

PRESS RELEASE:Dec. 20, 2006

Contact: Brendan Cummings 760-366-2232 x 304

Lawsuit Filed to Protect World's
Most Endangered Whale

North Pacific Right Whale Threatened by Proposed Oil Development in Bering Sea

SAN FRANCISCO—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today in federal district court in San Francisco to compel the Bush administration to protect the North Pacific Right Whale under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Department of the Interior this year has proposed opening up areas in the Bering Sea frequented by the species to offshore oil development. Meanwhile, President Bush is considering lifting the presidential withdrawal that currently prohibits such development.

The North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica), once ranging from Baja California to Alaska, is the most endangered large whale in the world, with perhaps as few as 100 individuals remaining. Devastated by commercial whaling, North Pacific Right Whales now face the threat of oil and gas development in their critical habitat.

Currently, three species of right whales are recognized by scientists. They are the North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica), the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis). While recent genetic data supports this three-species taxonomy, right whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific are still listed under the Endangered Species Act as a single species (Balaena glacialis). Separate listing of the North Pacific Right Whale would force the preparation of a recovery plan and other actions to protect the species and its habitat.

In August 2005 the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service requesting that the agency separately list the North Pacific Right Whale as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In January 2006 the National Marine Fisheries Service made an initial positive finding on the Center’s petition, triggering a statutory deadline of August 2006 for the agency to issue a proposed rule protecting the species. That deadline has now come and gone with no action from the agency.

“With the announced extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin this week, the North Pacific Right Whale now holds the dubious distinction of being the most endangered marine mammal in the world,” said Brendan Cummings, Ocean Program Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Bush administration seems determined to have the North Pacific Right Whale follow the river dolphin into oblivion. Full protection under the Endangered Species Act will help the species avoid that fate.”

Previous petitions and litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity resulted in the National Marine Fisheries Service designating almost 36,000 square miles of the Bering Sea as critical habitat for the North Pacific Right Whale on July 6, 2006. However, more than 15,000 square miles of this designated habitat is within the North Aleutian Basin, a planning area which the administration has recently proposed to open for oil and gas leasing.

North Pacific Right Whales are thought to consist of two distinct populations. The eastern stock visits the southeastern Bering Sea each summer near Bristol Bay. Only 17 individual whales have been documented in the population and the total abundance is likely well below 100. The western stock occurs in the Sea of Okhotsk. Its abundance is unknown but generally thought to be fewer than 200. Oil and gas development near Sakhalin Island threatens that population as well. There are approximately 350 North Atlantic Right Whales and 7,000 Southern Right Whales remaining. Only the Southern Right Whale is showing signs of recovery from previous commercial whaling.

A copy of the complaint and more information on the North Pacific Right Whale is available on the Center for Biological Diversity’s Web site at

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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