WASHINGTON (CN) – The Bush administration repeatedly failed to set marine vessel speed limits that it admits are “absolutely critical to protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction,” environmentalists claim in Federal Court. The Defenders of Wildlife, the U.S. Humane Society and the Ocean Conservancy joined forces to pressure the National Marine Fisheries Service to impose speed limits that can reduce the number of whales killed by fast-moving ships.
Because ship collisions are the leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths, plaintiffs claim speed limits are not only necessary, but are also required by federal environmental law.
Plaintiffs claim the agency deliberately stalled on the proposed speed limits, despite recognizing that the whales are in grave danger, and that ship-related deaths significantly drop when ships travel less than 10 knots. The species’ name derives from whalers, who said the slow-moving mammal was the “right” whale to hunt because it preferred swimming in surface waters. Since the early 20th century, the lawsuit claims, the right whale has been one of the rarest large whales in the world, with only an estimated 325 left.
Although whaling is no longer an obstacle, right whales face a new threat with boating casualties. Annual ship deaths – three in 2006 – combined with the species’ low reproductive rate has caused the population to dwindle even further, plaintiffs claim.
The agency allegedly acknowledged that the death of “even a single individual” whale could mean extinction, but rejected temporary regulations as “unnecessary in light of the agency’s progress on ship-speed regulations.”
But the agency has long since missed its promised deadline of finalizing the speed limit by June 2007, the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs want the court to give the National Marine Fisheries Service a 30-day deadline to either finalize permanent speed limits or adopt interim speed limits.