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Grijalva, Dingell, Beyer Lead Letter Urging Science-Based Protections for Critically Endangered Rice’s Whale

Today, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) led a letter signed by 16 House Democrats urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to swiftly finalize and implement measures to protect Rice’s whales — one of the most endangered marine mammals, with only an estimated 51 individuals remaining — from extinction.

In their letter, the lawmakers commend NOAA’s actions in “coordinating research, taking steps to designate critical habitat, and educating the public about this extraordinary part of our country’s natural heritage.

However, the letter underscores the need to go further, emphasizing how human activities, namely vessel strikes and oil and gas drilling, jeopardize the Rice’s whale survival:

“Rice’s whales are acutely vulnerable to vessel strikes because they spend seventy percent of their lives near the ocean surface. This is particularly dangerous at night when they are least visible to vessels. Two whales — including one mother whose calf was dependent on her for food — were hit by vessels, and your agency found that mortalities from ship strikes are likely to exceed what the species can sustain significantly. Much of this risk comes from the oil and gas industry. NOAA determined that oil and gas vessels represent about one-third of the total strike risk.”

The letter requests the agency prioritize science-based conservation measures to prevent the extinction of the Rice’s whale, including (1) finalizing its proposed critical habitat designation, (2) drafting and finalizing a recovery plan for Rice’s whales as soon as possible, (3) implementing conservation measures, including measures to reduce vessel strike and acoustic stress, and (4) prioritizing agency funding for Rice’s whales research and conservation.

READ the full letter to NOAA. 

Additional Background

Natural Resources Democrats have consistently fought against Republican and industry efforts to limit science-based protections for the Rice’s whale, including H.R. 6008, a Republican bill to prohibit the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from implementing measures to prevent their extinction.

Rice’s whales are critically endangered, with best estimates finding only 51 remaining individuals. Vessel strikes and oil and gas activities pose significant threats to species recovery and existence. The Deepwater Horizon disaster, for example, wiped out over one-fifth of the population. In addition, fossil fuel companies identify buried fossil fuel deposits by conducting seismic air gun surveys, which produce some of the loudest sounds humans can produce underwater and damage the whales’ ability to forage and communicate with one another.

According to marine scientists, failing to enact significant conservation actions for the Rice’s whale will likely lead to the first anthropogenic extinction of a great whale species in history.