FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933
NOAA Balks at Steps to Save Remaining Right Whales
Scientists Ignored as Agency Delays Entanglement and Ship Strike Relief
Boston — As the North Atlantic right whale careens toward extinction, the leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are refusing to act on findings by its own scientists to protect these whales, according to emails posted by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
There are roughly 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining. Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) uplisted the North Atlantic right whale from endangered to critically endangered, meaning it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
Where cause of death is known, 100% of right whale mortality is from ship strikes or entanglements in fishing gear. At the height of the lobster season, right whales have to navigate an estimated 900,000 vertical lines in the water.
“The North Atlantic right whale is the world’s first large whale species nearing extinction,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Its extinction is entirely preventable. NOAA has powerful tools to protect the North Atlantic right whale, but it is choosing not to use them. In this case, NOAA is choosing extinction.”
NOAA has been sued numerous times for its failure to close certain areas to fishing and for failing to reduce the number of vertical lobster lines in the water. Documents obtained by PEER reveal NOAA Fisheries “only want[ing] to share good news” about right whales, in order to downplay the effects of fisheries on the species. They also show that HQ is “freaked out” about the notion of the public discovering how entanglements harm right whales. The emails concern a breeding female right whale named Dragon who was found with a fishing buoy stuck in her mouth. Dragon has not been seen in months, and is presumed dead.
Similarly, NOAA is failing to adequately address the issue of fish strikes. On June 25th, one of only ten right whale calves born this season was struck and killed off the coast of New Jersey. Although the calf was known to be in the area, vessels were not notified to reduce their speed because NOAA Fisheries requires a minimum of three individual right whales to be in an area before vessels are warned.
“At the very least, NOAA must alert vessels when any right whale is in the area of shipping lanes,” added Bennett, noting that NOAA also apparently lost the carcass, but it was found by boaters. “With climate change warming the oceans, right whales are following their shifting food supply into harm’s way, increasing the risk of deadly interactions with ships and fishing gear.”