A North Atlantic right whale—a recent mother—found dead March 30 off the Virginia Beach coast with catastrophic injuries and vertebrae fractures, is the latest victim of the Biden Administration’s failure to issue new rules to protect these highly endangered animals from being struck by boats and ships. Four other right whales have been killed since December 2023.

That’s why Friends of Animals and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey sent an open letter (https://friendsofanimals.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/finalopenletter.pdf) to President Biden on Earth Day to ask him to stop delaying and immediately issue a speed rule to prevent further suffering and death. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed changes to the North Atlantic right whale vessel speed regulations back in 2022.

“We are beyond the point of excuses. NOAA scientists are trying to do the right thing,” said Susan Russell, wildlife policy director, Animal Protection League of New Jersey. “The Department of Commerce is not. President Biden must break this log jam and save this whale.”

Endangered North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction—there are fewer than 70 breeding whales remaining. An Unusual Mortality Event was declared for North Atlantic right whales in 2017, and currently includes 126 individuals (40 dead, 34 seriously injured, and 52 sublethally injured or ill). The primary causes of the UME are entanglements in fishing gear and vessel strikes in both U.S. and Canadian waters, which are long-standing threats to the recovery of the species.

Right whales are vulnerable to strikes because they are dark, with no dorsal fin, and swim close to the surface in shallower water. This is especially true for mothers with calves.   Slower speeds will allow boaters to spot the whales in time to avoid them.

The Administration recently denied an emergency petition from conservation organizations to set speed limits for vessels 35 feet and longer. The Administration said that it is in the process of finalizing a speed limit rule but has moved with no urgency and has offered no date when it should be expected.

“The right whale has suffered enough at the hands of humans. The craven withholding of protection for an ancient, persecuted whale in an extinction crisis is a moral catastrophe. We ask you to post-haste remove all obstacles to immediate approval and enforcement of vessel strike and entanglement regulations,” the letter states.

“Extinction is forever. We cannot let right whales go the way of the passenger pigeon, dodo bird, Stellar’s sea cow and hundreds of other species because of human activities,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. Established in 1957, Friends of Animals played a key role in obtaining The Marine Mammal Protection Act, which mandates the protection of right whales.

Feral pointed out that right whales are symbiotic with the ocean. While they consume large amounts of plankton, their waste products provide nutrients that support the growth of that same plankton. This process is particularly important as phytoplankton captures about 40% of all carbon dioxide produced and generates over 50% of the atmosphere’s oxygen.

“They also communicate, are involved in courtships and play. That they are being reduced to ocean ‘roadkill’ is shameful,” Feral said.