US recommendations to save endangered North Atlantic right whales are grossly inadequate

Two and a half weeks after WDC and its conservation partners issued a Notice of Intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for failing to adequately protect right whales, NMFS released a revised species review report with proposed recommended actions to prevent the extinction of North Atlantic right whales.  WDC and its partners are currently reviewing the report and the associated recommendations to ensure they address the urgency of the current right whale crisis.  

In the review, NMFS cites research indicating that the population of North Atlantic right whales, after a decade of growth, has been declining since 2010 and only an estimated 458 individuals remain today.  The review reports that survivorship for females is lower than for males and the rate of calving is also declining for the species.  NMFS provides data indicating that entanglements in fishing gear and vessel strikes continue to impact the recovery of the species. Citing a number of peer reviewed research articles, NMFS points to an increase in rope strength and the high energetic costs of chronic entanglement as factors contributing to the increasing dilemma of entanglements. 

Concluding that right whale recovery has not improved, the Agency determined that right whales should remain listed as an endangered species and stated that “in many ways, progress toward right whale recovery has regressed”.  Yet, shockingly, NMFS also concludes that “more comprehensive evaluative research should be conducted and additional regulation action should be undertaken, if warranted” (emphasis added).

Of the eight recovery goals set by NMFS, the Agency acknowledges that only one, the reduction of impacts by researchers and whale watching, has been met. And after citing over 90 different research findings and concluding that human impacts are preventing this species from recovering, NMFS did not recommend the implementation of further conservation measures.  Instead, the Agency only suggested that further research is needed. 

According to Regina Asmutis-Silvia, WDC-NA executive director, “Additional regulatory actions are definitely warranted.  We have the data, we know the problems- the time for research is over and it’s time to take meaningful action.  Otherwise, we will be studying where we went wrong when we let a species unnecessarily go extinct.”  

Since its incorporation in 2005, WDC’s North American office has implemented a program specifically dedicated to the continued survival of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a project which the Patagonia Outdoor Clothing and Gear company has helped to support since 2010. If you would like to help WDC and its work to save this species, please consider making a donation.  

Right whale fluke
Right whale fluke