WASHINGTON DC—A federal agency listed the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered today, after years of ignoring legal requests to protect the whale.
With its listing, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) conveyed to the whale, one of the most endangered great whale populations in the world, the legal protections it deserves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA.) With an estimated population of only 33 individuals, the outlook for these unique whales is dire but improved with this announcement.
“Even with this administration’s record on endangered species, the need to list the Gulf of Mexico whale was undeniable,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC. “This species now has a fighting chance for survival and to rebound from the brink of extinction.”
In February, Natural Resources Defense Council, (NRDC), along with Healthy Gulf, formerly Gulf Restoration Network, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, against NMFS, the Secretary of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS—the agency charged with protecting whales and other marine mammals—was required to take action within a year of publication of its proposed listing decision, which was December 8, 2016.
“As we saw the BP drilling disaster decimate an estimated 22% of this species population, we knew these whales would need to be better protected if they were to survive,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “It is so encouraging to see the Gulf of Mexico whale being granted the protections it needs under the Endangered Species Act.”
Today’s announcement fulfills a promise made by the Obama Administration, which concluded that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range and issued a proposal to list the Gulf of Mexico whale. The Trump Administration delayed the final step in listing the species as endangered.
The Gulf of Mexico whale was determined by NMFS scientists to be a unique subspecies of Bryde’s whale occurring only in the Gulf. Its habitat is now reduced to the upper waters of a single submarine canyon, lying largely off the Florida panhandle. NFMS had identified 29 threats to the whales, including 8 that the government believes pose a “high” risk to their continued survival. In particular, the government recognized the threats posed by oil and gas exploration and development: oil spills, oil spill response, and the intense anthropogenic noise associated with seismic blasting.
Last month, a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives from Florida, led by Rep. Kathy Castor (D) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R), sent the administration a letter urging it to list the species.