CONSERVATIONISTS CHALLENGE BUREAUCRATS’ FAILURE TO PROTECT WORLD’S MOST IMPERILED WHALE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 25, 2004
Contact: Brent Plater (415) 436-9682 x 301
United States District Court, San Francisco, CA—Today conservationists from the United States and Canada charged the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) with failing to protect the critical habitat of the North Pacific Right Whale, Eubalaena japonica, the world’s most imperiled whale. The conservationists are represented by Meyer & Glitzenstein in this action.
“The Right Whale was nearly hunted to extinction, and so it is our shared responsibility to insure that this species survives,” said Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to protect this special creature, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to protect the places the whales call home.”
NMFS is responsible for protecting the North Pacific Right Whale, and has a mandatory duty to protect the species’ habitats under the Federal Endangered Species Act. NMFS has known of the critical summer time habitats for the species since 1996, and has stated that protecting these areas is “a necessary component of any effort to conserve and recover this species.” However, NMFS has nonetheless refused to protect the critical habitat that is needed to prevent the Right Whale’s extinction. The conservationists intend to hold NMFS accountable for this failure, and are requesting the Court order NMFS to protect the Right Whale’s habitat under the federal Endangered Species Act, one of the world’s most important conservation laws.
The Endangered Species Act is a federal law providing a safety net for wildlife, plants, and fish 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.
“My family saw a mother and calf Right Whale this year while visiting Vancouver Island,” said Diane Ladouceur, conservationist from Calgary, Alberta in Canada. “Seeing these whales dive, surface, and interact with our own eyes was a magical experience. We owe it to future generations to be good stewards of the Right Whale so that they too will have opportunities to experience this species, and protecting the Right Whales’ critical habitats will help bring it back from the brink of extinction.”
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 this year scientists have 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 found. The Center then requested that NMFS reconsider its determination, but the agency never responded to any of the Center’s requests.
“Our country runs the risk of becoming the only nation to allow a great whale species to go extinct, and it’s happening on NMFS’ watch,” said Douglas Bevington, PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “There is no recovery plan for the species, and its critical habitats are threatened by exploitation and development. NMFS must be held accountable for these failures before it is too late.”
The Endangered Species Act requires NMFS to protect critical habitats based on the most rigorous science available. As more information is gained, protections can be revised and improved. However, NMFS has attempted to stall and delay protections for the Right Whales’ habitat—protections that NMFS has acknowledged are necessary for the species’ survival and recovery—despite knowing the species critical summertime habitats for nearly 8 years.
“The Bering Sea is a beautiful but unforgiving environment,” said author and Alaskan resident Kieran Mulvaney. “We may never know all the secrets that the Sea holds, and that’s why it’s important to protect the Right Whale’s habitats now based on the most rigorous science currently available. It is better to err on the side of caution because if the Right Whale goes extinct, it is gone forever.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization that protects endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, and environmental law.
Meyer & Glitzenstein is a public-interest law firm in Washington D.C. that specializes in litigation under the Endangered Species Act and other environmental and animal protection laws.