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Washington, DC — The federal government’s top advisor on protecting
marine mammals says inaction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
is condemning the endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction, according
to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). For the past year, NOAA has been sitting on proposed rules that would
require reduced ship speeds, rerouting and channel restrictions to minimize
ship traffic in sensitive calving, mating and migratory areas.

Ship strikes are the largest known cause of death for the right whale, considered
one of the planet’s most endangered species with less than 300 animals
left in existence. In the past several months, five percent of the total female
breeding population has been lost, as well as two near term calves.

In January 2005, the Marine Mammal Commission wrote to William Hogarth, head
of NOAA Fisheries, asking that his agency implement “emergency rules…aimed
at reducing ship strikes,” adding that “further delays in taking
action will result in additional right whale deaths and increase the likelihood
that the population will never recover.”

Although the Marine Mammal Commission sent its emergency recommendations on
January 24, 2005, NOAA has yet to respond. By law (16 U.S.C. §1402(d)),
NOAA is supposed to respond to Commission recommendations within 120 days –
a deadline that lapsed in late May. Since that January letter, three more animals
have been found dead, presumably ship struck, including a pregnant female whose
tail was severed and whose fetus immediately died.

“The question is whether NOAA and its parent agency, the Department of
Commerce, are so cowed by political pressure that they are incapable of effectively
safeguarding marine life,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett,
a former federal biologist. “When it comes to actually protecting the
right whale, NOAA should be spelled MIA.”

Alarmed by a rash of right whale deaths this past fall, NOAA issued a press
release in December announcing a “summit” of federal agencies “to
seek immediate voluntary actions” to make “East Coast waters safer”
for right whales. This summit never occurred nor did any actions to make the
waters safer.

In its January letter, the Marine Mammal Commission also found that NOAA was
not even requiring federal agencies to perform required consultations on their
actions that may affect the right whale. The Commission concluded that “For
the United States to maintain international credibility with regard to protecting
endangered species, it must be willing to aggressively pursue recovery plans
for species, such as the North Atlantic right whale, that are so critically
endangered by human activity.”

“Credibility has not been the calling card for Commerce and NOAA,”
Bennett added. “If this indifference is what happens in emergency situations,
imagine the neglect on the array of ocean issues not in the daily news.”


the January 2005 call from the Marine Mammal Commission for emergency action

at the December 15, 2004 NOAA press release announcing an interagency summit
for “immediate” action that never took place

last year’s proposed NOAA rules for speed limits, buffer and other measures
in the Atlantic

out about the dangers to whales posed by ship strikes