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December 19, 2012

The HSUS and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Call on Federal Agency to Take Action to Protect Right Whales

In the wake of the death of an entangled right whale in waters off the northeastern coast of Florida, The Humane Society of the United States and Whale and Dolphin Conservation urge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take several key actions that will better protect right whales. This most recent death, in addition to an incident last week when a vessel struck a right whale northeast of Ossabaw Island, Ga., demonstrate the need for immediate action.

“We simply can’t afford to keep losing right whales,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS. “It’s time that the federal government started taking seriously its obligation to protect this beleaguered species and take action. With a critically endangered species like the right whale, saving every individual we can is crucial to the creation of a better future for them.”

“Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the biggest threats these whales face are from vessel strikes and entanglements in commercial fishing gear, but in reality, the biggest threat right whales face is bureaucracy,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of WDC’s North American office. “It’s not too late to save them, but at some point, it will be.”  

Specifically, the groups call on NOAA to take the following actions:

  • Extend a federal regulation set to expire on Dec. 9, 2013 that requires vessels to slow in areas where right whales gather seasonally.
  • Follow through on a pledge to expand the protected areas of right whale critical habitat — including whales’ calving grounds off the coasts of Georgia and Florida. The agency pledged to do so in response to a petition by WDC, The HSUS and other groups but has not yet taken action.
  • Require changes to fishing gear that would reduce fatal entanglements. The regulations are pending with NOAA.  

Right Whale Facts:

  • Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain in a population that once numbered in the thousands until the advent of whaling. The species is now critically endangered.
  • Waters off the southeastern United States are the only known calving area for right whales.
  • Federal reports document that young and female right whales are the most likely to be killed.
  • Since 2004, at least 19 right whales have been struck by vessels, with nearly three-quarters resulting in serious injuries or fatalities. 
  • In July, The HSUS, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and WDC formally petitioned the government to extend the rule and expand right whale protections during times of the year and areas where they are not currently protected.
  • Historically, whaling depleted right whale populations to near extinction. The fact that they were slow-moving whales that lived close to shore and floated when killed made them the “right whale” to hunt.

Media Contacts: Rebecca Basu, The HSUS: 240-753-4875 rbasu@humanesociety.org     
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC: 508-451-3853 regina@whales.org

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