WASHINGTON – More than 55 organizations urged leaders of Congress today to provide $100 million in emergency funding for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Right whales are one of the most endangered species on the planet, with about 360 individuals remaining, of which only about 70 are breeding females.
Today’s letter asks that a substantial portion of the $100 million be used toward ramping up the deployment of “ropeless” or “pop-up” fishing gear. This type of gear is already being deployed by fisherman around the world, including in waters off the U.S. East and West coasts, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada, and in Australia.
“After decades of half measures and constant underfunding, the right whale population has reached crisis status,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without substantial funding to back the move to safer fishing gear, these iconic whales will likely go extinct in the very near future.”
Today’s letter notes that since 2017, at least 45 right whales have been killed or seriously injured in an ongoing, unusual mortality event unprecedented in modern times. Right whales are declining so quickly that scientists now predict the species could be functionally extinct by 2040 if current trends continue.
The Center and other groups filed an emergency rulemaking petition to protect right whales from becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear yesterday. The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to find that entanglements in fishing gear are harming right whales and to issue emergency regulations to address that impact.
While the right whale faces many threats, entanglements in fishing gear remains one of the largest threats to the whales’ survival. When right whales get entangled in commercial fishing gear, they can drown or drag the gear for weeks or months, for hundreds or even thousands of miles, until they ultimately succumb to starvation, infections, dehydration or exhaustion. Those that survive often suffer permanent injuries that interfere with breathing, feeding and reproduction.
“Congress’s lack of urgency and political will to address the extinction crisis and get serious about saving these beautiful whales is heartbreaking,” said Kurose. “Now more than ever, we need our leaders to take bold, meaningful action before it’s too late.”