Energy & Environment

Federal court to allow environmentalists to continue suit to protect whales

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A federal court is allowing a coalition of environmental groups to continue a lawsuit against the federal government to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday that the National Marine Fisheries Service, which had sought to have the case dismissed, “cannot avoid its obligation to ‘fully and promptly consider’ a petition for rulemaking—and shield itself from future judicial review—merely by issuing a noncommittal response.”

The groups are petitioning the Fisheries Services and Secretary of Commerce to expand the areas and times when boat speed limit rules meant to protect the whales can be implemented. 

The coalition, which includes Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, wants small and large boats to be required to abide by the speed restrictions, and for all voluntary restrictions to be made mandatory.

The speed rules currently in place only apply to boats longer than 65 feet and makes speed rules voluntary when a group of three or more right whales are spotted. 

The court decision follows a group of scientists saying in October that only 326 right whales were seen last year. 

“Right whale moms stay near the surface by the sides of their little ones who are not yet able to take long dives, putting both mom and baby at risk of being struck,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s North American office, one of the groups petitioning the government. “Just like slowing down in a school zone, speed zones on the water gives boaters and the whales a chance to react and move out of harm’s way.”

The court said the National Marine Fisheries Service has until Nov. 24 to respond to the petition. 

“We are aware of the ruling and are reviewing it closely,” a spokesperson with the Fisheries Service said in a statement.

— Updated at 4:37 p.m.

Tags Center for Biological Diversity Defenders of Wildlife Endangered animals National Marine Fisheries Service North Atlantic right whale right whale

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