As the threat from offshore drilling looms large, the species’ population has dwindled to just 33 individuals. Now they have a chance to survive.
After years of delay, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered today. “Even with this administration’s record on endangered species, the need to list the Gulf of Mexico whale was undeniable,” says Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, which—together with Healthy Gulf, sued NMFS, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in February to compel the listing of the whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The Gulf of Mexico whale is one of the most endangered species on the planet. Once found throughout much of the northern Gulf, its population has now been reduced to the upper waters of a single submarine canyon, lying largely off the Florida panhandle.
The 2010 BP oil disaster alone killed an estimated 22 percent of the species, and now just an estimated 33 individuals remain. Oil and gas exploration and development, oil spills, oil spill response, and the disruptive noise associated with seismic blasting were all included in a list of 29 threats to the species, previously identified by NMFS. “With so few remaining, the loss of even one Gulf of Mexico whale puts the entire population in jeopardy,” Michael Jasny, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project, has said.
Following an NRDC petition, the Obama administration concluded in late 2016 that the Gulf of Mexico whale was in danger of extinction throughout all of its range and issued a proposal to list it. Under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS was required to take action to protect the species within a year of that recommendation, but the Trump administration failed to do so, which led to the February lawsuit. “Because of this listing, the Gulf of Mexico whale now has a fighting chance for survival and to rebound from the brink of extinction,” Smith says.