Gray Whales Need Protection

Australians for Animals and The Fund

for Animals have filed a petition asking the U.S. government

to list the eastern North Pacific or “California” gray whale

population as a threatened or endangered species under the

Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing is essential to

protect gray whales and their habitat from increasing

threats including global warming, El Niño events, benthic or
bottom trawling, offshore oil and gas development, and the
recent resumption of whaling by the Makah tribe.

The direct, indirect, and cumulative impact of these threats
have drastically altered the ecology of the Bering and
Chukchi Seas, resulting in a substantial decline in benthic
amphipods — small tube-building creatures who live on the
ocean floor and are the primary prey of the gray whale.
Without access to adequate food supplies, gray whale
mortality has increased and births have declined
substantially. The number of stranded whales reported in
2000 was 291 compared to only 250 between 1990 and
1998, while the number of gray whale calves declined from
1,520 in 1997 to only 282 in 2000.

“The gray whale is like a giant canary in a very large coal
mine,” said Sue Arnold, president of Australians for Animals.
“The documented decline in the gray whale is indicative of a
collapse in Arctic ecosystems which the U.S. government
has largely ignored. Unless the government acknowledges
and addresses the threat of global warming, eliminates
bottom trawling, and provides ESA protection for gray
whales and their habitat, the population will be extirpated.”

The gray whale was nearly exterminated by 1880. The
population was protected under the ESA from 1970 until
1994, when the government prematurely de-listed the
population for political reasons. The loss of ESA protection
and the deficiencies in other laws have eliminated any
meaningful protection for gray whales and their habitat. The
petition also challenges the government’s overly optimistic
gray whale population estimates, documenting that such
estimates are uncertain, unreliable, and are based on
insufficient information and flawed formulas.

“The government can no longer rely on fuzzy math to
deceive the world into believing that the gray whale is safe,”
said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund
for Animals. “It’s time that gray whales and their habitat
receive protection from warming seas, bottom trawlers, oil
spills, and harpoons.”

The Fund for Animals is headquartered in New York City, and
Australians for Animals is based in Byron Bay, New South
Wales. The two organizations previously combined efforts to
secure a threatened listing for Australia’s koala under the
ESA, and to file a successful lawsuit to stop the Makah gray
whale hunt in 1999.

The 44-page petition and executive summary are available
here.

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