U.S. Coast Guard, wildlife groups settle litigation to protect endangered whales from ship strikes

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(12/05/2008) - WASHINGTON — Today wildlife protection groups and the Coast Guard reached an agreement to end long-running litigation about the impact of sea traffic lanes on endangered whales. Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, Ocean Conservancy, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society had filed suit to force the Coast Guard to consider the impact of designating travel lanes in busy shipping areas on critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The agreement, filed today in federal court in Washington, D.C., includes the Coast Guard's commitment to abide by the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and ensure that Coast Guard approved shipping lanes do not jeopardize the existence of critically endangered right whales.

“The DC Circuit Court of Appeals made clear in its ruling this summer that the Coast Guard must comply with the ESA in its designation of shipping lanes,” said Sierra Weaver of Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re pleased to have come to an agreement about how the Coast guard will fulfill their duty to protect right whales.”

Ship strikes are the number one cause of injuries and death to the few hundred remaining critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. The government estimates that vessel strikes kill an estimated minimum of 20 endangered whales every five years on the East Coast, though it acknowledges that most whales who are hit are not likely to be found. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the loss of even one female right whale could jeopardize the species.

According to the agreement, the Coast Guard will consider the impacts of three existing shipping lanes in Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Cape Fear, as well as any new or altered future lanes.

“Right whales are literally being run into the ground by the commercial shipping industry,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation and research for The HSUS. “The Coast Guard’s action is desperately overdue, and is a good first step toward protecting a species that is teetering at the brink of extinction.”

In addition to the Coast Guard’s agreement today, the National Marine Fisheries Service also recently ended its litigation with the groups by finalizing a rule to limit ship speeds to avoid ship strikes. The rule requires ships to slow to a speed of ten knots (approximately 11 mph) in whale habitat.

Plaintiffs were represented by Meyer, Glitzenstein, & Crystal in Washington, DC.

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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 Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)  is the nation’s largest animal protection organization – backed by nearly 10.5 million Americans, or one of every 30. 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.

Ocean Conservancy (OC) is the world’s foremost advocate for the ocean. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, we inform, inspire and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. Ocean Conservancy is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has offices in New England, Florida, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and California with support from more than half a million members and volunteers. Visit Ocean Conservancy on the Web at www.oceanconservancy.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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Contact(s):

Erin McCallum, Defenders of Wildlife, (202)772-3217
Kristen Everett, The HSUS, (240)744-6489
Michele Capots, Ocean Conservancy, (202)351-0436
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, The WDCS, (508)451-3853

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