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Greens Sue Commerce to Save Sperm Whale

WASHINGTON (CN) - Wildearth Guardians sued the Secretary of Commerce to force it to act on petitions to list the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale, the Nassau grouper, the bumphead parrotfish and five species of sawfish as endangered species.

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In its federal complaint, WildEarth Guardians claims Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank's inaction violates the Endangered Species Act.

Wildearth Guardians claims the population of Gulf sperm whales was down to 1,349 when it filed its petition on Dec. 9, 2011, asking that the huge marine mammals be listed as endangered species.

"The species' populations grow slowly," WildEarth says. "The rate of increase in reproduction is very low, possibly no more than one or two percent per year. Additionally, past selective killing of large males by whalers could have the residual effect of reducing reproductive rates."

The whales stay in the Gulf of Mexico year round, a dangerous lifestyle given the variety of human activities that threaten them there.

"Because these whales come relatively close to shore, they are especially vulnerable to oil and gas development and ship traffic. Large oil spills, such as the recent Deepwater Horizon spill, could result in the complete loss of a regional population and require three or more generations to recover as well as push Gulf Whales out of previous ranges," the complaint states. "Gulf Whales are incidentally captured in fishing gear. Gulf Whales are also in danger of ship strikes because the Gulf of Mexico contains six of the top ten busiest shipping ports in the country."

The Nassau Grouper, which can weigh up to 55 pounds and live up to 29 years, is threatened by commercial and recreational overfishing. Global grouper populations have been estimated to be as low as 10,000, and the U.S. population, which is found from Florida to North Carolina, have dropped despite a fishing moratorium established in 1992.

Overfishing is the leading cause of slumping populations. Even if fisherman release grouper, they are "likely to perish" on account of hemorrhaging, but biological vulnerabilities, including slow maturation and a brief period of sexual maturity, also threaten their existence, WildEarth says.

The group also submitted petitions to protect the Knifetooth Sawfish, the Narrowsnout Sawfish, the Dwarf Sawfish, the Freshwater Sawfish, the Smalltooth Sawfish and the Bumphead Parrotfish.

Some species of parrotfish have the remarkable ability to change their sex to accommodate population pressures.

Wildearth Guardians claims the government missed its deadlines on all its petitions.

It asks the court to order the secretary to publish 90-day and 120-day findings on the species in the Federal Register.

WildEarth Guardians is represented by Samantha Ruscavage-Barz of Santa Fe, N.M.

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