WASHINGTON (CN) — Bryde’s whale is “one of the most endangered species of whale on the planet,” but the United States is dragging its feet on granting it protected status, a nonprofit claims in federal complaint.
Filing suit Thursday against regulators, the Natural Resources Defense Council says the Gulf of Mexico subspecies of the Bryde’s whale population is “perilously small,” with less than 50 whales, and should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
This species lives in industrialized waters off the Florida panhandle and faces the perils of vessel collisions, organic pollutants, disturbances from oil and gas exploration and commercial shipping, and the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the complaint states.
In combination with the population’s small numbers, these factors make the whales “especially vulnerable to extinction,” the NRDC says.
Bryde’s whales from the Gulf of Mexico may be distinctive from other Bryde’s whale populations, the NRDC says, citing studies that indicate the population has “little genetic diversity, suggesting a history of isolation, and the population is evolutionary distinct from all other Bryde’s whales examined to date.”
If the study’s conclusions are accurate, the NRDC says this would make the whales “without question, one of the most endangered species of whale on the planet.”
The NRDC filed a petition in September 2014 with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce seeking protection for the whales.
After taking more than double of the 90-day initial period to determine the seemingly unique whales should, in fact, be considered an endangered species, the government agencies are late, yet again, in issuing their final decision, which was due no later than April 6, 2016.
“Defendants’ inaction thwarts a collective commitment— manifest in the ESA itself — to our country’s most imperiled species and risks the irretrievable loss of the Gulf of Mexico’s whale from the wild forever,” according to the complaint, abbreviating Endangered Species Act.
Bryde’s whales are approximately 50-feet long and weigh 90,000 pounds.
The NRDC sued the National Marine Fisheries Service and its assistant administrator, Eileen Sobeck, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
NRDC attorney Stephen Zak Smith noted in an email that “the National Marine Fisheries Services has an unfortunate pattern of failing to meet its statutory obligations,” when it comes to listing petitions and associated actions like designating critical habitat pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
“We believe an endangered listing is warranted because of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale’s extremely small abundance (fewer than 50 animals), its low genetic diversity, its apparently limited range, and its exposure to numerous anthropogenic threats (e.g., vessel collision, acoustic impacts, and bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants) leave it highly vulnerable to extinction,” Smith, of Santa Monica, California, added.
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