Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan, Castor to Feds: Protect Gulf of Mexico Whale

Mar 7, 2019
Press Release
Unique Whale Deserves Endangered Species Protections

WASHINGTON — Congressmen Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) today urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to list the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

“With a population of less than 50, this unique whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet and perilously close to extinction,” stated the lawmakers in a letter to NOAA Acting Administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs. “Since being targeted by commercial whalers in the 1900s, the Gulf of Mexico whale has faced numerous threats to its survival.”

“Listing this critically endangered species under the ESA is not only required by law, but would help protect the remaining population and aid in its recovery,” they continued.

Their existence is threatened by various factors, including boating accidents, energy exploration, oil spills, entanglement in fishing equipment and noise disruption. Listing the Bryde’s whale as endangered would designate a critical habitat and allow for other protections to be enacted to ensure the survival of the species.

In December 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service found that the Bryde’s whale “is in danger of extinction” and recommended that it be listed as on the Endangered Species list. Under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA was required to act on the proposed listing within 12 months of this recommendation. However, more than two years later, NOAA has failed to act.

Joining Buchanan and Castor were Congressmen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Darren Soto, Matt Gaetz, Alcee Hastings, Val Demings, Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist.

Buchanan, co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus, received an A rating from the Humane Society for his leadership and votes in 2018. He is also a past recipient of the Humane Society’s “Legislator of the Year” award. He recently opposed the Interior Department’s announcement that it would move to delist the gray wolf from the Endangered Species protection.

His strong record of defending animals also includes opposing weaker protections for the Florida manatee and panther, as well as urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore a database of animal cruelty information that the department removed suddenly and without notice.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Dr. Jacobs,

We write to strongly urge you to list the Gulf of Mexico whale as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With a population of less than 50, this unique whale is one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet and perilously close to extinction.[1]  Its small habitat is limited almost entirely to waters off the coast of Florida, in an area known as the De Soto Canyon.[2]

Since being targeted by commercial whalers in the 1900s, the Gulf of Mexico whale has faced numerous threats to its survival, such as vessel strikes, anthropogenic noise, pollution, and, most notably, oil and gas exploration and production activity, including acoustic disturbances from seismic airguns and oil spills.[3]  In fact, the government’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment estimated that 17 percent of the population died outright in the Deepwater Horizon spill.[4]  The impact of anthropogenic activity greatly intensifies challenges the whales face from natural factors - slow maturation, low levels of genetic diversity, and restricted range.

On December 8, 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service published a 12-month finding under the Endangered Species Act, concluding that the Gulf of Mexico whale is a unique subspecies, is at a high risk of extinction, and should be listed as endangered.[5]  NMFS identified 27 threats to the whale’s survival.[6]  Since then, however, the agency has taken no action to list the species or make any finding that would excuse this delay, despite legal requirements to do so.[7]  Knowing this information, the agencies failure to act is intolerable morally and almost certainly a violation of the Endangered Species Act. 

As a result of extensive anthropogenic threats and low genetic diversity, the Gulf of Mexico whale has a disturbingly high risk of extinction.  Listing this critically endangered species under the ESA is not only required by law, but would help protect the remaining population and aid in its recovery.  We therefore write to urge you to take immediate action to list this iconic and treasured species.

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[1] Northern GOM Bryde’s Whale, Marine Mammal Commission, https://www.mmc.gov/priority-topics/species-of-concern/northern-gulf-of-mexico-brydes-whale/. (last visited Sept. 5, 2018).

[2] Id.; Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whales, NOAA Fisheries, http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/brydes_whale/index.html. (last visited Sept. 5, 2018); NOAA, The Expert Is In!  Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whales, (Feb. 13, 2017), https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/expert-gulf-mexico-brydes-whales

[3] Northern GOM Bryde’s Whale, supra note 1; Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whales, supra note 2. 

[4] 81 Fed. Reg. 29232 (June 22, 2018).

[5] 81 Fed. Reg. 88639 (Dec. 8, 2016).

[6]  81 Fed. Reg. 88643-44 (Dec. 8, 2016).

[7] 16 USC § 1533(b)(6)(A)(i).