All I want for the Holidays: Protection for the Gulf's Whale

Today, on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, I wrote the National Marine Fisheries Service to let them know that if they don't take immediate action on our request that they list the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) as endangered, we’d sue.

Last year, the agency recognized that the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whale is at a high risk of extinction and should be listed as endangered. But it hasn’t done anything since then. That’s against the law. The clock is ticking, and the Gulf’s only baleen whale cannot wait.

The Bryde’s whale lives in an underwater canyon off the Florida panhandle. The population is perilously small. Recent abundance estimates put its numbers at 33 individual animals, making it one of the most endangered whales on the planet.

Credit: NOAA

Sadly for this whale, the Gulf’s waters are some of the most industrialized in the world. The Bryde’s whale is at daily risk of mortality or serious injury from an oil spill, vessel strike, acoustic impacts from seismic oil and gas exploration, acoustic impacts from commercial shipping, and a host of other threats.

Among the human-caused threats facing the population, the agency found that oil spills was one of eight posing a “high” risk to the Bryde’s whale. “Oil spills are a common occurrence in the Gulf of Mexico,” the agency observed, and the impact of a spill on a whale can be long-lasting and severe: “For large baleen whales, like the [Gulf of Mexico] Bryde’s whale, oil can foul the baleen they use to filter-feed, decreasing their ability to eat, and resulting in the ingestion of oil. Impacts from exposure may also include: Reproductive failure, lung and respiratory impairments, decreased body condition and overall health, and increased susceptibility to other diseases.”

So, what’s on my holiday wish list this year? Endangered Species Act protection for the Gulf of Mexico whale.

If the National Marine Fisheries Service does not act within sixty days, we will pursue litigation in federal court.

About the Authors

Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

Staff Attorney, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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