As Few as 30 North Pacific Right Whales Remain in Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Following the Center for Biological Diversity’s threat to sue last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed a recovery plan for critically endangered North Pacific right whales. North Pacific right whales, so named because they were once considered the “right whales” to hunt, are the rarest whales in the world, with as few as 30 individuals left in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and only a few hundred in Russia’s Okhotsk Sea.
“North Pacific right whales have a long road to recovery, but we hope it starts here,” said Sarah Uhlemann, a Center attorney. “With just a small number of these great animals left in the world, the loss of even one of them could threaten this population’s existence.”
The draft plan lays out measurable goals to determine when the species has fully recovered and no longer requires Endangered Species Act protections. North Pacific right whales are extremely vulnerable to ship strikes, oil development and spills and entanglement in fishing gear; unfortunately, although the agency’s proposal presents a much-needed strategy for additional research, it does not provide a clear roadmap for avoiding these serious threats.
“Just a few dozen of these animals remain in Alaska, and they desperately need the Endangered Species Act’s fullest protections to have a chance of survival,” said Uhlemann.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fisheries Service is required to issue and implement a plan for the conservation and recovery of all ocean species protected by the Act. North Pacific right whales have been protected under the Act as “northern right whales” since 1973 and since 2008 as a species in their own right, but these critically endangered animals currently have no recovery plan. On March 20, 2012, the Center sent the Fisheries Service a formal notice of intent to sue over the agency’s failure to develop a recovery plan for the whales. Comments on the draft plan released today will be accepted for 45 days.
“While a good plan is clearly important, it’s even more critical that federal agencies actually implement the plan’s recommendations,” said Uhlemann. “All too often federal agencies produce great plans but little action.”
Read more about the Center’s campaign to protect North Pacific right whales.