The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit to compel the Bush administration to protect the North Pacific Right Whale under the federal Endangered Species Act. The US Department of the Interior has proposed opening up areas in the Bering Sea frequented by the species to offshore oil development. Additionally, President Bush is considering lifting the presidential withdrawal that currently prohibits such development.

The North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica), once ranging from Baja California to Alaska, is the most endangered large whale in the world, with perhaps as few as 100 individuals remaining. Devastated by commercial whaling, North Pacific Right Whales now face the threat of oil and gas development in their critical habitat.

Currently, three species of right whales are recognized by scientists. They are the North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica), the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis). While recent genetic data supports this three-species taxonomy, right whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific are still listed under the Endangered Species Act as a single species (Balaena glacialis). Separate listing of the North Pacific Right Whale would force the preparation of a recovery plan and other actions to protect the species and its habitat.

“With the announced extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin this week, the North Pacific Right Whale now holds the dubious distinction of being the most endangered marine mammal in the world,” said Brendan Cummings, Ocean Program Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Bush administration seems determined to have the North Pacific Right Whale follow the river dolphin into oblivion. Full protection under the Endangered Species Act will help the species avoid that fate.”

A copy of the complaint and more information on the North Pacific Right Whale is available on the Center for Biological Diversity’s Web site.

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