Right whales, © Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA, NOAA permit #15488

It’s Time to Act for Right Whales

Agency Drags its Feet on Protecting Right Whales, Defenders Jumps In

Facing threats ranging from ship strikes to climate change, the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale needs the utmost protection to escape extinction. But that’s not even a point of contention in our recently-filed lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). We’re all on the same page when it comes to the science behind why the right whale’s current designated critical habitat is insufficient. Defenders has waited long enough for NMFS to take action on our 2009 petition to expand designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. In 2010 –only after we sued NMFS for not meeting the mandatory deadlines to take action – NMFS promised to move forward with a proposed rule by mid-2011. Nearly three years later, we’re still waiting for NMFS to fulfill its obligations. That’s why we recently filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boston, Massachusetts, to challenge the agency’s unconscionable delay in protecting right whales.

Right whale and calf, © NOAA

Right whale and calf.

Right whales need a wide range of protected habitat to accommodate their migration from their winter calving grounds off the southeastern United States through the mid-Atlantic to their feeding areas off the New England coast. Yet these areas are not adequately protected from ship traffic, entangling fishing gear, noisy military exercises, and energy development. Currently, NMFS has only designated 4,000 square miles of right whale critical habitat, even though the most up-to-date science demonstrates that the species’ critical habitat really covers 50,000 square miles. This vast discrepancy might help explain why the right whales struggle at a population of fewer than 450 individuals, making it the most endangered large whale species, and one of the most endangered mammals, in the world. We want to change that, and protecting these vulnerable whales from ships, nets and more is the best way to do it.

Since initially designating critical habitat in 1994, NMFS has repeatedly acknowledged that the 4,000-square-mile area is not large enough. Over the past ten years, NMFS has published numerous studies on the importance of expanding critical habitat. The agency stated in the right whale recovery plan just how essential expanding the whale’s protected habitat is to decreasing the number of whales killed by human activity, and to increasing the species’ likelihood of overall survival. Despite the evidence put forward by its own experts, the agency failed to anything about it.

After years of inaction on the agency’s part, in September 2009, Defenders and our conservation allies formally petitioned NMFS to increase the right whale’s critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Because the law required a response from the agency within 90 days, a deadline the agency failed to meet, Defenders and our allies filed a lawsuit and settled the case when NMFS belatedly issued the required 90-day and 12-month findings. When NMFS finally published its required response in October 2010, it reiterated its support of expanding the whale’s critical habitat and stated that it would propose a rule to that effect by the second half of 2011. Almost three years later, we’re still waiting on this proposed rule to appear in the Federal Register. So this month, we joined forces with fellow conservation allies, asking the courts to set a firm deadline for NMFS to act on the long-overdue expansion of right whale critical habitat. The agency will have sixty days to file an answer to our complaint.

Meanwhile, right whales struggle to survive in dangerous habitat that NMFS’ scientists have identified as critical to the species’ survival. As the agency dawdles, new threats are cropping up in the right whale’s habitat, where the species faces expanding energy development, commercial fishing, and ship traffic. The low reported number of newborn right whales this calving season reinforces the significance of these dangers. This spring, scientists observed only 10 new right whale calves, half the annual average since 2000. It is high time the agency stops neglecting right whales and gives them the protection it has long deemed appropriate and necessary.

Anne Russell Gregory, Conservation Law Coordinator

21 Responses to “It’s Time to Act for Right Whales”

  1. jackie rogers

    This is terrible please help these blessed animals to live free we are all gods creatures and everything has a right to live in this world without fear of man and machine

  2. Dianne Burke

    Unbelievable that arrogant humans think the can play creator, thumbing through the diversity of life on Earth, and deciding which species to save and which to exterminate! The lack of decision making by the U.S. Wildlife is dramatically taking an enormous toll on the health of all Whales, but particularly of the Right Whale who require a huge area witthin our Oceans …unless we make room for all species on Earth, we will quickly commit genocide on All life, including our own! Time to take a firm stand in making a safe route, keeping out fishing and shipping, specifically for these highly endangered Right Wales. Start NOW, before it is too late.

  3. Renate Lundgren

    This must to be taken care of now no more dilling and dalling around, be grown up and take responsibility for this.

  4. Michelle Lemley

    I support the expansion of protected waters for the right whale. The Agency’s failure to act is deplorable.

  5. Joan Lorenz

    We need to respect and protect the creation, instead of destroying it every chance we get.

  6. Sandy

    Being responsible for turning our intrusions to the environment should happen now, not later. Replace what we take, repair what we ruin, replenish the earth now.

  7. vicki payne

    its time to take responsibility for the planet we are ruining,and the animals lives that are carelessly cut short from greed and uncompassionate behaviour

  8. Suzy Hayes

    We are dealing with an extinction & pollution crisis of our own doing. Over 7 BILLION and growing of the self proclaimed “superior species” does not a healthy & sustainable Planet make. Although the USA may have only 5% of the World’s population, WE consume 30% of all the World’s resources and create the much in garbage!

  9. Nelly

    We may continue to act oblivious to what our actions will ultimately do to the creatures in the world. But we will start feeling the hurt, slowly but surely when we have finally looked away enough and these creatures die out completely. Humanity will unfortunately finally want to act drastically to save creatures once we see it is too little too late. It’s sad

  10. James Hartley

    When are we going to learn that we need to live with our fellow creatures, not kill them.

  11. Doug Marchel

    If we do not care about these wonderful creatures, we are going to be in the same place one of these days, and YES, believe me it will happen, and there will be nothing and no one to help us!!!!

  12. eric

    Its sad that this is even an issue. 4000 sq miles is nothing in the vast Atlantic ocean. Even the 50000 you seek is minimal. The reality is our coastal waters harbor many diverse marine life, all of which deserve to inhabit the planter as much if not MORE than humans. Humans are a despicable and disgusting creature and the fact that we even need consider this issue is example of this. 50000 sq miles? I say double it.

  13. eric

    Err…PLANET…not planter…stupid auto correct. Man I HATE it!

  14. Torah

    When there are no mare animals on land or sea left to hunt for some stupid reason or another,…they will hunt humans. Don’t think they would not. These type of people have no conscience, do not believe in god nor have one drop of compassion for anyone nor anything. When all the animals have become extinct from the hands of humans, I believe they would turn to hunt anything that moves, even an ant because it is an ugly deed that these people & our government feel they MUST do. There excuses to hunt are lame & honestly make no sense. God did not put man here to govern the population control of animals. It is only an excuse for them to hunt. I hope one day soon, all the hunters become the hunted. And yes, I would pay to see that. What a great show that would make. I bet their ratings would go through the roof … i get excited just thinking about it.

  15. Lanette Rapp

    Time to keep your promise NMFS and protect the Right Whale!

  16. Dr Timothy Gray

    When are we going to learn that we need to live with our fellow creatures, not kill them !! What are we leaving future generations ?

  17. ravinder singh

    The species so called human what does it want? The whole planet to themselves. NO that is not possible. The greed of a human being will never end.


    It is time to do the right thing by the planet and other species that live upon her. Humans are a part of this magnificent web; we are all connected. What happens to the whales shall come around to effect people too. Their habitat is our habitat. Make it happen!

  19. Junior

    seems a little trciky to just make specifically the chinook species of one area endangered, but still allow fishing for chinook in other areas. those guys like to travel!

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