Conservation Groups File Lawsuit to Protect Critically Endangered Right Whales

Federal government is legally required to take action


Erica Fuller, Earthjustice, (508) 400-9080


Josh Block, Conservation Law Foundation, (617) 850-1709

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and co-counsel Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force federal regulators to comply with their legal responsibility to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale population.

“The North Atlantic right whale is facing the most dire of circumstances, and without our help, could be facing extinction as soon as 2040,” said Emily Green, staff attorney for CLF Maine. “Research shows that entanglement in fishing gear has accounted for 85 percent of right whale deaths in recent years. Tragically, chronic entanglement is a source of extreme stress, pain, and suffering for right whales, and can interfere with eating, moving, and reproducing. And we know that entanglement can cause long-term adverse health impacts even for whales that manage to escape the ropes.”

“Unfortunately, prior efforts by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to mitigate these harms have fallen short,” Green continued. “Regulators are not just morally mandated to act, however — they are also legally required under the Endangered Species Act to ensure fishing efforts do not cause harm to these animals.”

Amidst existing threats from climate change, increasing shipping traffic, and a rapidly changing ecosystem, the species also experienced an “unusual mortality event” last year, leaving 17 right whales dead. With fewer than 460 total whales left, even one death is a catastrophe.

Green says the news just last week of yet another whale death — this one, a female of reproductive age — makes this a crisis requiring an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“Right whales contribute to the health of our ecosystem, to the strength of our economy, and to the wonder of experiencing the ocean for so many New Englanders. We refuse to let this magnificent species go extinct on our watch. We must act now before it’s too late.”

“NOAA Fisheries admits there is a crisis, but without immediate action, right whales could go extinct in our lifetime,” added Earthjustice attorney Erica Fuller. “NOAA Fisheries needs to act immediately to implement conservation measures so future generations can share the ocean with these wonderful creatures — instead of wondering why this generation didn’t do more to prevent their extinction.”

CLF has fought for decades to protect right whales, by establishing measures to ensure their safety during offshore wind development, by fighting for the protection of important whale habitats, and by taking a stand against damaging offshore oil and gas exploration.

This filing follows a notice of intent to sue sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce in November 2017. A similar lawsuit was filed by three national groups in federal court in recent weeks.

Read the complaint. 

Right whales are on the brink of extinction, pushed closer by a rash of recent and unprecedented deaths.(NOAA NMFS Northeast Regional Office / CC BY 2.0)

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