Please select your home edition
Edition
Cure Marine - Cure 55 - LEADERBOARD

Celebrate Whale Week with NOAA Fisheries: A message from Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator

by NOAA Fisheries 30 Apr 2023 17:56 UTC
A Rice's whale just under the surface of the water in the Gulf of Mexico. This endangered whale was recognized as a separate species from the Bryde's whale in 2021 © NOAA Fisheries under NOAA Permit No. 21938

Whales are some of largest and the most magnificent animals on Earth, and some whale species are among the world's most endangered.

At NOAA Fisheries, our team of dedicated scientists and managers is responsible for the health and sustainability of more than 30 whale species in U.S and territorial waters.

Every year, we spend a week taking a deeper dive to share our whale expertise. This year is particularly notable because it is the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Some of the most recognizable whales—North Atlantic right whales, Southern Resident killer whales, and Cook Inlet belugas—are at the top of our Species in the Spotlight initiative.

While climate change makes conserving these whales more challenging, we are proud of the conservation successes we've made.

Endangered Species Act at 50

The Endangered Species Act is a powerful and effective tool for conserving species and their habitats. Under the Act, NOAA protects more than 160 marine and anadromous species, and I will say, without hesitation, that the ESA has been overwhelmingly successful in preventing their extinction during the last 50 years. The Act has also put many species on the path to recovery to the point where they no longer need protections under the ESA.

Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries works with other federal agencies and our partners to conserve nine whale species and nine distinct population segments of whales, as well as the ecosystems upon which they depend. One of our greatest success stories is the recovery and eventual delisting of the eastern stock of gray whales—once listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Fourteen distinct population segments of humpback whales were also delisted in 2016. These victories for endangered and threatened species speak to the success of the Act and the conservation work it supports.

Stay tuned for more information about NOAA Fisheries' 50th anniversary celebration of the Endangered Species Act.

Climate Change Challenges

Fifty years ago, climate change was not well known; now, it is considered one of the greatest threats to the natural world. The impacts of climate change are intensifying locally and globally, significantly affecting marine life and ecosystems. These environmental changes include warming oceans, rising seas, ocean acidification, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Whales are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change because these effects can be magnified toward the top of the food web. Endangered and threatened whales like North Atlantic right whales and North Pacific right whales and Southern resident killer whales are similarly impacted by climate change, making their recovery even more challenging.

NOAA Fisheries is committed to our mission to conserve protected species in the face of these threats. With our partners, we have taken a series of steps to advance climate-focused science and management including:

  • Climate vulnerability assessments for marine mammals and sea turtles
  • Scenario planning to address uncertainties, predict impacts, and prioritize mitigation and recovery actions
  • Climate-smart conservation training to educate staff about implementing climate adaptation tools in their work

These activities improve our understanding of and ability to address the impacts of climate change on protected species and their habitats while increasing climate readiness.

Ongoing unusual mortality events

While we've made significant strides in whale conservation, research, and recovery under the Endangered Species Act, several whale species face new and continuing challenges to their recovery. There are three active Unusual Mortality Events for whale species:

  • Atlantic humpback UME declared in 2017 and currently 191 individuals in the UME
  • North Atlantic right whale UME declared in 2017 and currently 98 individuals in the UME
  • West coast gray whale UME declared in 2019 and currently 640 individuals in the UME

Understanding and investigating marine mammal UMEs are crucial because they can be indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues which may also have implications for human health.

I invite you to take time over the next week to reflect on the importance of whales in our marine ecosystems. This week and every week, NOAA Fisheries protects and conserves all whale species—from the Cook Inlet beluga whales in Alaska, to Rice's whales in the Gulf of Mexico, to blue whales, which are found in every ocean. We engage our partners—including the Marine Mammal Commission—as we develop regulations and management plans that foster healthy fisheries and reduce the risk of entanglements, create whale-safe shipping practices, and reduce ocean noise. Please join me in celebrating Whale Week as we highlight whales, their conservation, and the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

Janet Coit
Assistant Administrator, NOAA Fisheries

Related Articles

Massachusetts Cold-stunned Sea Turtles
A sign of climate change? The number of cold-stunned turtles on Cape Cod are increasing, likely in part due to climate change. We are adapting our response and planning for the future to accommodate increasing numbers. Posted on 22 Jun
NOAA offers Inflation Reduction Act funding
To the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation NOAA Fisheries is providing $6 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Posted on 24 May
NOAA partners with U.K. anglers and scientists
Study to focus on movement ecology of blue sharks in the eastern North Atlantic NOAA shark researchers are kicking off an international science initiative this month to tag up to 2,000 mature blue sharks off the coast of the United Kingdom. Posted on 14 May
Rice's whale habitat in the Gulf of Mexico
NOAA Fisheries published research findings that characterize the habitat NOAA Fisheries published research findings in Endangered Species Research that characterize the habitat of endangered Rice's whales based on oceanographic parameters such as depth, temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll-a concentration. Posted on 13 May
Ship to Shore: Live from Research Vessel Sikuliaq
Join researchers from NOAA Fisheries on board Join researchers from NOAA Fisheries and other organizations on board the research vessel Sikuliaq for in-person Ship to Shore events! Posted on 12 May
Monk Seal pup debuts in Waikiki on Lei Day
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai?i" by Leonard "Red" and Ruth Hawk Endangered Hawaiian monk seal RK96 (Kaiwi) gave birth to her sixth pup on popular Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, Oahu! The birth was reported on May 1, 2024. Posted on 11 May
Rice's Whales spotted in Western Gulf of Mexico
The whales were observed 55 nautical miles off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas NOAA Fisheries scientists had the rare opportunity to observe two Rice's whales during aerial surveys in the western Gulf of Mexico. Posted on 6 May
Entangled humpback whale successfully cut free
The response took several days and involved a broad array of agencies, organizations, and volunteers A humpback whale was entangled in fishing gear in Iliuliuk Bay, near the Port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Due to the efforts of NOAA, partners, and local trained volunteers, it was successfully cut free. Posted on 28 Apr
Gray Whale population abundance
Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale population increases after observed decline To understand how the eastern North Pacific gray whale population is responding to changes in the environment following its recovery from low numbers due to commercial whaling, we study changes in abundance over time. Posted on 5 Apr
New research reveals diversity of Killer Whales
Long viewed as one worldwide species, killer whale diversity now merits more Scientists have resolved one of the outstanding questions about one of the world's most recognizable creatures, identifying two well-known killer whales in the North Pacific Ocean as separate species. Posted on 31 Mar
North Sails Performance 2023 - FOOTEROcean Safety 2023 - New Identity - FOOTERPantaenius 2022 - SAIL FOOTER - ROW