Right whales are now ‘critically endangered’—just a step away from extinction

Right whales are now ‘critically endangered’—just a step away from extinction

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

Right whales are now ‘critically endangered’—just a step away from extinction

Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are largely to blame for the decline in right whale populations, as is climate change. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In late June, the body of a dead North Atlantic right whale calf was found floating off the coast of New Jersey—a victim of two boat strikes, according to a preliminary analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While this would have been a sad story no matter what animal was involved, it is particularly concerning that this was a young right whale with many reproductive years ahead of him. There are just 400 of these mammals surviving in our oceans, and the death of even one could have deadly ramifications for the entire species.

Yesterday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature escalated the urgency around saving right whales by uplisting their status on its red list from “endangered” to “critically endangered”—meaning that these animals are now just a step away from extinction.

The numbers are indeed alarming. Since 2017, only 22 North Atlantic right whale calves have been born. At the same time, 31 North Atlantic right whales have died and an additional 10 have been presumed dead due to the serious nature of injuries they’d sustained, bringing the total to 41 dead right whales in the past three years.

This plight of North Atlantic right whales is entirely attributable to human actions. These native American marine mammals make their home along the eastern shores of the United States and Canada, and the reason their numbers went down in the first place is because they were easy targets for whale hunters for centuries. These mammoth animals are slow-moving and live close to the coast, which made them the “right” whales to hunt.

While whaling is now banned in U.S. and Canadian waters, it has been replaced by new threats. As the IUCN said in its release announcing the uplisting, entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are largely to blame for the decline in right whale populations, as is climate change, which pushes the whales’ main prey species further north during summer where they are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships and are also at high risk of entanglement in fishing gear.

The Humane Society family of organizations has been sounding the clarion call to these countries for many years now on saving right whales. We’ve taken the fight to court, and in April we won a lawsuit in federal court, brought along with our coalition partners, that challenged the U.S. government’s failure to protect right whales from deadly entanglements in fishing gear. In 2013, as the result of a legal petition we filed, the United States mandated that large ships slow down while passing through key right whale habitats. This resulted in reducing deaths from lethal ship strikes, which until recently was the leading cause of death for the species. We also successfully petitioned to expand their designated critical habitat protections in key feeding areas and in the southeastern United States where female right whales birth their young.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have exhorted Canada to close more risk-prone fisheries during months of high use in order to protect right whales from dying after getting entangled in fishing gear. Last year, Canada announced comprehensive protections, altering fishing season dates and designating specific shipping areas with a seasonal slow speed requirement. This year, the country announced further restrictions regulating fishing and shipping in a larger area after a whale has been spotted nearby. But given that most right whales are killed in Canadian waters, the country needs to do more to prevent unnecessary deaths.

We also need the United States to take more concrete steps if we are to save this important species. We need NOAA to urgently issue overdue regulations that would restrict and regulate where and how fishing gear could be set along the U.S. coast. This will help ensure less risk-prone rope is in the water during right whales’ migration up and down the coast. And we desperately need to ensure that funding for conservation efforts makes it into Congress’s Fiscal Year 2021 spending package.

As Congress works in coming weeks on its annual appropriations process, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is pushing for additional funding for vital research for monitoring right whale populations. We also continue to urge Congress to provide funds to the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue assistance grant programs, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. This network responds in emergencies to injured marine mammals, including entangled or injured right whales, and could make a crucial difference in helping this species survive.

We continue to press for the passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act (S. 2453/H.R. 1568), introduced by Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., former Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, and Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. and John Rutherford, R-Fla. The bill authorizes $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years.

Your support to help save these North American marine mammals is crucial. Please contact your Senators today and urge them to support this important bill. The IUCN uplisting of right whales is a grim reminder that there is no time to lose.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Published at Fri, 10 Jul 2020 17:19:45 +0000

Spending bills move up in Congress, with provisions for gray wolves, non-animal testing methods and ending wildlife markets

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

Spending bills move up in Congress, with provisions for gray wolves, non-animal testing methods and ending wildlife markets

The bill includes vital language protecting healthy wild horses and burros managed by both the BLM and U.S. Forest Service from being sent to slaughter and/or being killed. Photo by Grace Kahler/The HSUS


Provisions for funding programs to protect wild horses and burros, gray wolves, animals used in research and testing, as well as elephants and lions, who are commonly the target of American trophy hunters, were among several animal welfare measures approved this week by House appropriations subcommittees, as Congress continues its annual process of funding the federal government.

The subcommittees also included funding to stop the dangerous exploitation of wildlife and protect the world against future pandemics. The coronavirus is thought to have originated at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, and since its emergence the Humane Society family of organizations has been warning about the need to end such markets where live wild animals are sold and slaughtered.

Measures in two separate bills approved this week by the subcommittees covering funding for the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation would:

Reinforce congressional commitment to protect wild horses and burros. The bill includes additional funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program with a commitment by House appropriators to continue to work with their Senate counterparts and the agency to fund and implement a non-lethal management program. We will work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe and humane reversible fertility control tools, which do not include surgical sterilization, are used as the main management tool for these animals. The bill also includes vital language protecting healthy wild horses and burros managed by both the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service from being sent to slaughter and/or being killed.

Maintain ESA protections for gray wolves. The bill directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to carefully analyze state management plans for wolves and establish stringent enforcement to ensure adequate protections will be in place before it removes a species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. The bill also rejects cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2021 budget to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, which provides grants for livestock producers to undertake non-lethal activities to reduce the miniscule risk of livestock losses from wolves.

Protect the world against future pandemics. The subcommittee directs FWS to use additional resources provided in FY2021 to work collaboratively with international partners to stop dangerous wildlife practices that threaten global public health.

Fund wildlife protection programs. The bill seeks to correct years of funding cuts for implementing the ESA, the landmark statute critical to protecting imperiled wildlife. The FWS’s main program for on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species got a boost of $12 million above last year—$34 million over the administration’s FY 2021 budget request. The bill also increases funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by $4 million from its FY2020 level and by $13 million from the administration’s FY2021 proposal.

Continue research into animal testing alternatives. The bill provides level funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Computational Toxicology Program, which develops replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act, and directs the EPA to continue its research into these important areas, which will help support the agency’s commitment to ending testing on mammals by 2035.

Combat wildlife trafficking. The bill provides an increase of $1.88 million over FY 2020 levels for FWS’s Office of Law Enforcement and a $4.4 million increase for its International Affairs Program to continue to facilitate their work, including international cooperation to prevent wildlife trafficking, investigating wildlife crimes and regulating wildlife trade.

Restrict trophy hunting. The United States has long been the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies, including trophies of federally protected imperiled species. The bill prohibits the FWS from allowing the import of such trophies of lions or elephants from Zambia, Zimbabwe or Tanzania, where the populations of these animals have declined to unsustainable levels.

Invest in road safety for wildlife. The bill includes significant funding for the Department of Transportation to implement the INVEST in America Act that, among other things, facilitates grant programs and planning directives for new wildlife crossings or alternate routes around roadways for wildlife. This would mitigate both human and wildlife fatalities every year due to vehicle collisions.

We are especially heartened that members chose to fund these measures at this time, demonstrating how important animal welfare issues are to the American public. And we are grateful to the many legislators who championed these provisions and to subcommittee chairs and ranking members for their leadership in seeing them through. We will be pushing for each one of these to make it into the final appropriations package in months to come, ensuring that animals, and protecting them, continues to be a priority for our nation.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.


Published at Thu, 09 Jul 2020 22:00:51 +0000

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