WASHINGTON (July 28, 2020) – NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Healthy Gulf filed a lawsuit today in federal court to protect the habitat of the critically endangered Gulf of Mexico whale.
The complaint alleges that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to meet its deadline to designate critical habitat for the whale, which is one of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth. By the Fisheries Service’s own estimates, only 33 of these magnificent creatures remain.
“The Government has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations to protect the Gulf of Mexico whale,” said Sam Eisenberg, attorney for NRDC. “The Gulf of Mexico whale requires full federal protection, it deserves full federal protection, and Congress has mandated that it receive full federal protection. Our demand is simple: The Fisheries Service should do its job.”
The Gulf of Mexico whale, a subspecies of the Bryde’s whale, is the only baleen whale native to the Gulf. The small remaining population faces serious threats from offshore fossil fuel exploration and from oil spills. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 is estimated to have killed 17% of the population. The lawsuit filed today marks the third time conservation groups have sued the Fisheries Service for missing deadlines relating to the protection of the species.
“The people of the Gulf of Mexico region have waited too long for the government to enforce the Endangered Species Act and protect these whales,” said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of Healthy Gulf. “Every additional delay by the Trump administration hurts the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale’s odds of survival and recovery.”
NRDC petitioned the Fisheries Service in September 2014 to list the whale as endangered. The petition described the species’ dwindling numbers and the significant threats it faces from seismic blasting that accompanies oil exploration, ship strikes, and the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill. When the Fisheries Service missed a one-year deadline to formally respond to the petition, NRDC sued. The Fisheries Service proposed to list the species as endangered in 2016, but failed to finalize that decision, missing a second statutory deadline. NRDC and Healthy Gulf sued the Fisheries Service in early 2019, which led to the Fisheries Service finally listing the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered throughout its range in April of that year.
In today’s lawsuit, the conservation groups allege that the Fisheries Service unlawfully failed to designate critical habitat for the Gulf of Mexico within one year of its April 15, 2019 listing decision, as the Endangered Species Act requires.
“Time is of the essence to protect the few Gulf of Mexico whales that remain,” said Eisenberg. “It should not take a lawsuit to get the government to comply with its own statutory deadlines, much less multiple lawsuits, but with the Trump administration this is par for the course. We hope the Fisheries Service will act quickly to remedy their unlawful delay.”
NRDC filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of itself and Healthy Gulf.
The complaint is available here.
Healthy Gulf is a regional nonprofit whose purpose is to collaborate with and serve communities who love the Gulf of Mexico by providing the research, communications, and coalition-building tools needed to reverse the long pattern of over exploitation of the Gulf’s natural resources. To learn more, visit us at www.healthygulf.org and follow us on Twitter @heatlhygulf.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.