Undoing the Threat to Endangered Right Whales
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Undoing the Threat to Endangered Right Whales

Trump Administration Turned a Blind Eye to the Mass Killing of the Giant Sea Creatures

Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

Trump’s National Marine Fisheries Service was regulating right whales toward extinction as the whales literally starved to death while entangled in fishing gear.

An estimated 356 North Atlantic right whales, including about 70 breeding females, migrate between Florida and Canada. The population has been declining for 11 years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “has powerful tools to protect the North American right whale, but it is choosing not to use them,” said biologist Kyla Bennett. She is science policy director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. She added, “In this case, NOAA is choosing extinction.”

At the height of the lobster season, right whales have to navigate through more than 900,000 ropes that connect surface buoys to traps on the sea floor.

In Trump’s last days in office, NOAA published a draft opinion that said there would no jeopardy to the continued existence of right whales under the Endangered Species Act. The agency oversees catching lobsters off the north Atlantic coast which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Trump regulators arrived at this conclusion based on the estimated impact of  regulations that are still being written. Trump regulators claimed the proposed rule will reduce the risk of entanglement that kills or severely injures right whales by 60%.

ACTION BOX / What You Can Do About It

Entanglement in fishing gear, primarily the buoy lines used by lobster, crab and other trap fisheries, has been the leading cause of death for right whales over the last 10 years. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Comment online about proposed regulations about right whales and other marine mammals before midnight tonight.

Contact Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility at 202-265-7337 or [email protected]

 

Paul Doremus is the acting head of NOAA Fisheries. Chris Oliver, the Trump appointee, resigned.

The right whale got its name because it was the “right” whale to hunt. Right whales swim close to shore, produce lots of whale oil and typically float after they are killed because they have so much blubber. Right whales were nearly extinct in 1935 when the League of Nations banned hunting them.

Today, right whales face extinction because they are being hit by boats and tangled in fishing gear, mostly from lobster traps. At the height of the lobster season, right whales have to navigate through more than 900,000 ropes that connect surface buoys to traps on the sea floor.

Right whales were one of the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, to try to prevent the extinction of animals and plants, whatever the cost.

The Supreme Court prevented the Tennessee Valley Authority from operating a dam that already had been built because the endangered snail darter fish was discovered in the Little Tennessee River.

Lobstermen say proposed changes to try to prevent killing whales such as making ropes that break if a whale becomes entangled will hurt them financially. Maine Gov. Janet Mills directed her state in 2019 to come up with an alternate plan to protect right whales.

“I will do everything I can as your governor to protect your rights and your livelihoods and defend Maine’s lobster industry in the face of absurd federal overreach,” Mills wrote in July 2019.

Right whale deaths outpace births 3:2. From 2017 to 2020, only 22 right whale calves were born. Many dead right whales aren’t found so the numbers scientists are using for deaths are an undercount.

In mid-February, a dead right whale calf was reported stranded along the Florida coast, the first observed right whale death in our nation’s waters in 2021. The calf’s mother was found three days later with injuries that suggested she had been struck by a boat.

Featured image: Northern right whales (NOAA)

March 1, 2021