Groups file lawsuit to prevent illegal deaths of endangered whales

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Fishing gear continues to be major killer of whales in North Atlantic

BOSTON (10/31/2011) -

Conservation and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit today asking a federal court in Massachusetts to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for continuing to allow four federal fisheries to injure and kill endangered whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Each year, endangered whales become entangled in commercial fishing gear. Entanglement makes it harder for them to swim, feed and reproduce and it can cause a chronic infection or even drowning.

Already, 2011 has seen the death of two right whales from entanglement, as well as at least seven additional new entanglement reports for right whales. Since June alone, eight endangered humpback whales have been reported with first time entanglements.

“Every single right whale counts when it comes to ensuring the species’ survival, but the Fisheries Service continues to place whales at risk of injury and death,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Safeguarding the right whale from entanglements in fishing gear is a vital step towards moving this species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”

“The Fisheries Service is well aware that North Atlantic right whales need better protections, yet it is allowing these fisheries to continue to operate without them,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fisheries Service needs to take immediate action to put protections in place to make the fisheries safer. If they don’t act now, we will see the extinction of the right whale in our lifetime.”

“In an increasingly busy ocean, the survival and recovery of the North Atlantic right whale depends on protecting each individual from entanglement-related injuries and deaths,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, senior biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Background:

• The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered large whales, with an estimated population of less than 400 individuals. In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has previously stated that the “loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.”
• NMFS has cited entanglements in commercial fishing gear as one of the most significant threats to the right whale’s survival and recovery. Yet, almost every year since 2002, at least one entangled right whale has been found dead or so gravely injured that death is deemed likely.
• In addition to right whales, fishing gear used by the American lobster, northeast multispecies, monkfish, and spiny dogfish fisheries continues to injure and kill endangered humpback, fin, and sei whales.  
• Today’s lawsuit was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the federal district court for Massachusetts.

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Links:

See what Defenders is doing to make waters safer for critically endangered right whales.

Contact(s):

Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226, cleutwiler@defenders.org
Katie Jarl, The Humane Society of the United States, 301-258-1483, kjarl@humanesociety.org
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, 508-746-2522, regina@wdcs.org

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.     

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (North America) Inc. (WDCS) is the global voice for the protection of whales and dolphins and their environment. It is based in Plymouth, MA and is part of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a charity registered in England with additional offices in Germany, Argentina and Australia. For further information please visit www.whales.org.

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