Press Release

Administration Lists Gulf of Mexico Whale as Endangered After Lawsuit

Unique whale population finally granted protections

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Washington, April 15, 2019 | comments
Good news! Following a push championed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) that included a bipartisan letter she led from U.S. Representatives in Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it would list the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
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Good news! Following a push championed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) that included a bipartisan letter she led from U.S. Representatives in Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it would list the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“By listing the critically endangered Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as an endangered species, NOAA is taking an important step towards giving this unique whale the protection it deserves,” said U.S. Rep. Castor. “Florida’s greatest gifts are our natural resources and wildlife, and we must fight to preserve and protect them. I appreciate that NOAA took action on protecting this vulnerable species that I have fought hard to safeguard.”

Below is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) release marking the victory:

A federal agency listed the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered today, after years of ignoring legal requests to protect the whale.

With its listing, the NMFS conveyed to the whale, one of the most endangered great whale populations in the world, the legal protections it deserves under the ESA. With an estimated population of only 33 individuals, the outlook for these unique whales is dire but improved with this announcement.

“Even with this administration’s record on endangered species, the need to list the Gulf of Mexico whale was undeniable,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC. “This species now has a fighting chance for survival and to rebound from the brink of extinction.”

In February, Natural Resources Defense Council, (NRDC), along with Healthy Gulf, formerly Gulf Restoration Network, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, against NMFS, the Secretary of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS—the agency charged with protecting whales and other marine mammals—was required to take action within a year of publication of its proposed listing decision, which was December 8, 2016.

“As we saw the BP drilling disaster decimate an estimated 22% of this species population, we knew these whales would need to be better protected if they were to survive,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “It is so encouraging to see the Gulf of Mexico whale being granted the protections it needs under the Endangered Species Act.”

Today’s announcement fulfills a promise made by the Obama Administration, which concluded that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range and issued a proposal to list the Gulf of Mexico whale. The Trump Administration delayed the final step in listing the species as endangered. 

The Gulf of Mexico whale was determined by NMFS scientists to be a unique subspecies of Bryde’s whale occurring only in the Gulf. Its habitat is now reduced to the upper waters of a single submarine canyon, lying largely off the Florida panhandle. NFMS had identified 29 threats to the whales, including 8 that the government believes pose a “high” risk to their continued survival. In particular, the government recognized the threats posed by oil and gas exploration and development: oil spills, oil spill response, and the intense anthropogenic noise associated with seismic blasting.

Last month, a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives from Florida, led by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D) and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R), sent the administration a letter urging it to list the species.

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