April 23, 2024 3:10 am
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Advocates call for action to save endangered North Atlantic right whales

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Shanteya Hudson, Public News Service

Advocates are calling for action to save the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species.

The Biden administration has appropriated $10 million to support right whale protections in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Jane Davenport senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said the species is facing a rapid decline largely due to human causes like vessels strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. There are now only 360 right whales left in the world.

“The critical number to keep in mind is not 360, it’s 70,” Davenport emphasized. “There are only 70 reproductively active females surviving. And currently, human activities are killing right whales far faster than those 70 females can produce calves.”

Davenport pointed out the waters off coastal Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina serve as the sole calving grounds for right whales. She wants the Biden administration to more create rules to promote the coexistence of right whales and boating traffic, such as imposing and enforcing lower speed limits during the whale’s busiest seasons.

Davenport explained currently, vessels 65 feet or longer are required to slow down to 10 knots or less along the east coast during specific times of the year. She argued to keep right whales swimming this North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule needs to be expanded to include smaller vessels.

“That proposed rule, if the agency finalizes it, will apply those seasonal speed limits to vessels 35 feet and longer,” Davenport explained. “It redraws the seasonal speed limit zones to be more accurate, given that we know much more now about where the right whales are.”

She stressed current conditions not only risk right whale extinction, but pose negative impacts to the marine ecosystem and climate, as well.

“It’s important to save the right whales also because right whales are drivers of the ocean ecosystem,” Davenport asserted. “They feed at depth and then they eliminate at the surface and those nutrients fertilize the plankton that produces oxygen.”

Davenport added they are calling on lawmakers to do more and for the rule to be updated. She said in 2023, the Biden Administration rejected a request from Defenders and its partners to establish speed limits. However, she stressed they plan to continue advocating for marine life by appealing to NOAA Fisheries and lobbying Congress for funding and research into innovative fishing gear to reduce potential to harm endangered species.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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