Don't Sacrifice the Gulf of Mexico Whale for Oil and Gas

NRDC and Healthy Gulf are suing the Trump administration to protect this imperiled species. 

NOAA/NMFS/PIFSC

The Gulf of Mexico whale, one of the most endangered species on the planet, is facing extinction if it doesn’t gain the protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But—not suprisingly—the Trump administration has been dragging its feet on listing this imperiled species.

With an estimated population of only 33 individuals, the outlook for these unique whales is bleak. That is why NRDC and our partners at Healthy Gulf have filed a lawsuit to compel the listing of the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered under the ESA.

In September 2014, NRDC filed a petition asking the Obama administration to list the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered, but the administration missed the statutory deadline to move the listing forward. So NRDC sued in May 2016, resulting in an agreement by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—the agency charged with protecting marine mammals—to meet its next obligation in the listing process by December 2016. The Obama administration fulfilled its promise, concluding that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range and issuing a proposal to list the Gulf of Mexico whale.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next: The Trump administration arrived. Under Trump, the NMFS has been sitting on the final step for listing the species, violating the deadline established by law, despite the fact that the agency identified 29 threats to the whales, including 8 that the government believes pose a “high” risk to the continued survival of the species. 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.

The severity of the first of these threats was clearly demonstrated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This single disaster resulted in the deaths of an estimated 17 percent of the species, reproductive failure in 22 percent of reproductive females, and additional adverse health effects in 18 percent of the population. Other high-risk threats include ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear.

Given the Gulf of Mexico whale's natural life history characteristics, its low levels of genetic diversity, small population size, and restricted range, another terrible event like an oil spill or the chronic effects of seismic blasting put it at serious risk of extinction. The Gulf of Mexico whale is running out of time and cannot afford any more delay in gaining protections under the Endangered Species Act. We must act now.

Stop the assault on whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals

About the Authors

Zak Smith

Senior Attorney, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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