Feds Sued Over Lack of Protection for California Whales

Humpback Whales spend the winter months off of the Mexican Coast and then migrate to the central California coast for the feeding season.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Environmentalists sued the federal government Thursday claiming humpback whales off the coast of California listed as endangered still have not received habitat protections.

The lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups aims to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat off the Pacific Coast for the humpback whale population who feed off the coast. The whales are in danger from fishing gear, ship traffic, and oil spills. The government’s lack of action violates the Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2016, two groups of Pacific Ocean humpback whale populations were listed as endangered and a third group as threatened, according to the 13-page complaint filed in the Northern District of California.

But earlier this year, the Trump administration announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling across the country, including the entire West Coast and Alaska.

“If finalized, this proposal could greatly damage humpback whale habitat with seismic exploration activities, drilling, construction, and pollution,” the groups say in the lawsuit.

Thursday’s lawsuit comes after a December 2017 notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service. In the notice, the groups said the federal agency failed to designate critical habitat for distinct humpback whale populations in Mexico, Central America, and the western North Pacific.

“The Fisheries Service’s failures deprive these imperiled species of important protections and put them at further risk of extinction,” the conservationists said in a statement.

Last year, the center also sued the state of California claiming fishing lines, crab traps, buoys and other gear endanger whales and violate the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, collision with ships caused the deaths of 50 blue whales off the California coast between 2001 and 2010, according to a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Wishtoyo Foundation join the center as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In a statement Alicia Cordero, First Nations program officer for the Wishtoyo Foundation said, “Ensuring proper designation of critical habitat for these populations of endangered humpback whales is a core responsibility for Chumash people, keeping our millennia-old commitment to all our relations and preservation of our culture.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the fisheries service’s parent agency, said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The groups seek a finding that the government has violated the Endangered Species Act and an order directing the fisheries service to establish critical habitat designations.

They are represented by in-house counsel Catherine Kilduff, Miyoko Sakashita and Kristen Monsell.

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