Washington, DC — By failing to take action against acknowledged threats, the government’s latest “recovery plan” dooms the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction, according to public comments released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With only 300 animals left in existence, the highly endangered right whale will continue to die from collisions with commercial shipping, entanglement in fishing gear and acoustical damage from new Navy sonar arrays.
On August 31, 2004, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries published a “Draft Revised Recovery Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale.” This latest effort is long on plans and short on action,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former federal biologist. “NOAA’s proposal is too little, too late because it indefinitely postpones real protections.”
In its comments, PEER points to the following gaps in NOAA’s plan:
- The U.S. Navy is refusing to even consult with NOAA on the impact of naval operations, despite the fact that in right whale habitat Navy vessel traffic dwarfs commercial ship traffic;
- Lack of enforcement for the Mandatory Ship Reporting System (MSR), considered the current chief measure for reducing the right whale ship strike threat. Inaugurated on July 1, 1999, MSR requires all commercial ships of 300 gross tons or greater to report to shore when they enter critical right whale habitat. Yet off the coast of Georgia and Florida, compliance has been poor, with only 50% compliance in 2003 and a 63% average from January through April 2004; and
- Continued investigation into use of active sonar alarms to drive right whales away from shipping which may be damaging to their sensitive internal acoustics. PEER points out that passive acoustic systems are both workable and much safer for the whales.
At the same time, NOAA is postponing action on proposed speed limits and shipping buffers to reduce the chance for, and impact of, collisions with ships. In addition, NOAA is relying on private donations to help convert fishing fleets to using buoyant fishing gear that reduce the risk of entanglement.
“There is a gaping hole in the safety net for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale but NOAA is proposing to measure the hole rather than sew it shut,” added Bennett. “The scientists at NOAA know what needs to be done but the political will is lacking.”