Federal Judge Rules US Failed to Protect Endangered Pacific Humpback Whale

Federal Judge Rules US Failed to Protect Endangered Pacific Humpback Whale


The Pacific humpback whale is facing extinction, and efforts to protect this majestic species from commercial fishing gear have fallen short. A federal judge in San Francisco recently ruled that U.S. wildlife officials violated their legal obligation to safeguard the endangered humpback whale by failing to protect it from being killed in government-approved underwater fishing gear off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The National Marine Fisheries Service was required to include a plan to protect the whales when it issued a three-year offshore permit in 2021 to the commercial sablefish industry, the San Francisco Chronicle, reports. Sablefish, which are caught in tens of thousands of ocean-floor pots connected by long lines, can also entangle whales.

The Pacific humpback whale is facing extinctionPhoto: Pixabay
The Pacific humpback whale is facing extinction

The agency failed to require a “take-reduction plan,” or protective strategy, because it lacked funds to do so. However, the law mandates the protection of species “whose level of incidental mortality and serious injury exceeds the potential biological removal level, those that have a small population size, and those which are declining most rapidly.”

Humpback whales were first listed as endangered in the 1970s, but according to NOAA data there has been a 400% increase since 2018 in serious injuries and deaths to the species from human activity, including nets and vessel strikes. The whales are entangled in the underwater nets off the coast of the Bay Area and elsewhere in California and the Pacific Northwest, reports The Conversation.

Pacific Humpback whales are threatened by the commercial fishing industry.Photo: Pixabay
Pacific Humpback whales are threatened by the commercial fishing industry.

One way to reduce mortality would be to impose seasonal limits on undersea commercial fishing. Another solution, ropeless fishing gear, favored by the Center for Biological Diversity, lifts the underwater pots by pressing a button rather than leaving the entangling lines in place. That gear is more expensive than the current equipment. Congress has approved some funding for its use in the Northeast, the Boston Globe reports.

“This is a clear win for endangered humpback whales, who face enough deadly threats in the water already,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Fishing gear and lines in migrating humpbacks’ habitat mean more entanglements, and the Fisheries Service shouldn’t have ignored those risks. These majestic animals deserve to live without lethal obstacles in their way. This victory will help them recover.”

The Pacific Humpback whale has been experiencing a rapid decline in numbers.Photo: Pixabay
The Pacific Humpback whale has been experiencing a rapid decline in numbers.

Humpback whales are known for their songs, which can last up to 20 minutes, and they are renowned for their acrobatic displays, breaching and slapping the water, National Marine Sanctuaries reports. However, the commercial fishing industry and climate change are threatening their existence. The Pacific humpback whale population is already vulnerable due to commercial whaling, which reduced their numbers by 90% in the early 20th century, Nature reports. Their numbers are recovering, but they remain endangered. Additionally, climate change is affecting their habitat, reducing their food supply and forcing them to travel farther for sustenance.

The Pacific humpback whale is a keystone species in the marine ecosystem, and its disappearance would have far-reaching consequences. Studies show whales transport nutrients from the depths of the ocean to the surface, where they support the growth of phytoplankton, which provides oxygen for humans and marine life. The whales also help to maintain the balance of the food chain, as they consume krill and small fish and are preyed upon by orcas.

Help us protect the Pacific Humpback whale from extinction!Photo: Pixabay
Help us protect the Pacific Humpback whale from extinction!

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the commercial fishing industry must take responsibility for their role in the decline of the Pacific humpback whale population. While the ruling by the federal judge is a step in the right direction, more action is necessary to prevent the extinction of this magnificent species.

It is our responsibility to protect the Pacific humpback whale and ensure its survival for future generations. Click below to sign the petition take action for this species!

Matthew Russell

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.

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