US government faces legal action for failure to protect whales

Whale swimming is green water with some dolphins under him
North Atlantic right whale, photo: Canva

The United States (US) government faces legal action for failing to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. 

The ocean conservation organization Oceana filed a Submission on Enforcement Matters against the US government. The legal action accuses the US of violating the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). 

There are only 360 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world. Collisions with vessels and entanglement in fishing gear used to catch crab and fish are the two main causes of injury and death for North Atlantic right whales.

Once, there were 21,000 North Atlantic right whales, but they were hunted close to extinction in the early 20th century, with only around 100 remaining by the 1920s.

Whaling North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, leading their numbers to bounce back to as many as 483, but the progress has since been reversed with only 360 remaining. An estimated twenty are killed each year in US and Canadian waters.

In a press release, Oceana said USMCA rules allowed “a person or organization [to] file a submission with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) if a USMCA party is not effectively enforcing its environmental laws, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.”

According to Oceana, the US is “not effectively implementing numerous environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales from their primary threats of deadly fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes, as well as stressors from climate change, ocean noise, and offshore energy development.”

Oceana’s campaign director, Whitney Webber, said it was “clear that the US government is failing North Atlantic right whales, and we hope this action will finally get these whales the protections they require.”

Webber said Oceana’s legal submission “not only outlines all the ways that the government has failed to uphold its own environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales, but it also requires a government response.”

“Until the US government effectively acts on its legal obligations to protect North Atlantic right whales from top threats and prevent their extinction, Oceana will continue to use all tools available under the law to force action,” she added.

The offending agencies named in Oceana’s legal action include America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Coast Guard.

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