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Doing the Right Thing for Whales

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North Atlantic right whales are struggling to survive and, thanks to action by The Humane Society of the United States, their chances just got a bit better.

The stats are sobering. In some years, as few as a single calf is born to the population of less than 400 whales in the Atlantic. In one 12-month period, three pregnant females were killed when they were hit by ships as they migrated between their only known calving area off the southeastern United States and their feeding grounds in New England and Canada.

North Atlantic right whale with calf
Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/NOAA
North Atlantic right whale with calf.

To save these whales, it's vital that their feeding and birthing and migratory areas be protected. The National Marine Fisheries Service is charged with protecting the whales and their critical habitats, and their own scientists have recommended that larger areas of habitat be protected from activities that could harm whales or their habitat. The whales needed a strong voice to speak up for them, and that's where we came in.

In 2009, The HSUS and our allies filed a legal petition with the Fisheries Service to expand critical habitat for the whales. We presented substantial evidence showing areas most in need of added protection. Rather than responding within the time required by law, the Fisheries Service ignored the petition. After months of waiting, our attorneys took the agency to court and demanded action.

This week, we got the good news that, rather than fighting us in court, the Fisheries Service has agreed to revise the boundaries of critical habitat areas. This is a victory for the imperiled whales, and means that this remnant population has a fighting chance. Potentially harmful activities such as oil and gas exploration in these crucial areas will undergo greater scrutiny, and vessels will be required to operate more slowly to prevent collisions with these giant and vulnerable animals as they travel to their feeding and breeding grounds.

Our team of lawyers, scientists and other experts are working around the clock to make sure that state and federal laws protecting animals are fully and faithfully applied. In this case, thanks to the staff, members, and supporters of The HSUS, the future looks a little brighter for one of the largest animals in the world with one of the smallest remaining populations.

This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.

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