(ENDANGERED WHALES) CANADA — One of Canada’s most endangered species is at the centre of a new lawsuit in the United States, where environmentalists are pressing federal agencies to increase protection of the North Atlantic right whale’s feeding, breeding and calving areas south of its Nova Scotia summer range. — Global Animal
The Montreal Gazette, Randy Boswell for Canwest News Service
One of Canada’s most endangered species is at the centre of a new lawsuit in the United States, where environmentalists are pressing federal agencies to increase protection of the North Atlantic right whale’s feeding, breeding and calving areas south of its Nova Scotia summer range.
The push to designate new stretches of “critical habitat” in U.S. waters comes a year after Canadian authorities – amid warm praise from ecoadvocacy groups -approved a major expansion of the whale’s protected zones in this country.
The adoption of strict new conservation measures in the Roseway Basin, an important whale-feeding area near the Bay of Fundy, was hailed as a key step in nurturing the species’ recovery in Canadian waters.
Along with the whooping crane -another critically endangered species whose recovery depends on U.S.-Canada co-operation in safeguarding its cross-border habitats -the North Atlantic right whale has been on the brink of extinction for decades.
Scientists estimate the whale’s population at about 400. Ship strikes, fishing-net entanglements and pollution are considered the main threats to the species.
The U.S. lawsuit, filed last month in Boston, is seeking to curb naval exercises, oil drilling and other potential habitat disturbances in areas off Florida and Georgia, where the female right whales give birth each year to a small number of young.
“Critical habitat protections have a proven track record of helping endangered species to survive,” said Andrea Treece, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups suing the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The North Atlantic right whale is on the edge of extinction, and further delay of habitat protection may seal the species’ fate.”
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Defenders of Wildlife lawyer Sierra Weaver said permanent restrictions on offshore oil drilling in areas frequented by right whales are key to ensuring the species’ long-term survival.
“The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has shown that industrial activities in the ocean can affect not only the animals themselves, but the entire environment in which they live,” she said. “A similar catastrophe off the east coast of Georgia or Florida could make uninhabitable the only place on Earth that right whales give birth to their young.”
As a sign of the whale’s vulnerability, the Canadian military announced last week that a major international naval exercise set to begin off the East Coast will be stopped and rerouted if right whales are detected in the area.
Canada’s Atlantic lobster fishery also recently adopted new rules aimed at reducing the industry’s impact on right whales.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has led U.S. efforts in recent years to rescue snagged whales from fishing lines. But the groups suing the federal agencies contend it’s taking too long for the U.S. government to take the most important step in helping the North Atlantic right whale to survive: identifying and protecting the species’ favourite feeding and reproducing zones.