Drilling Debate The world’s most endangered whale species may face a new threat

Right whales in the North Pacific have still not recovered from being ravaged by historic commercial whaling, and according to US government sources, fewer than 300 may exist—making them the most endangered whale species in the world. Unfortunately, a recently planned lease sale area in Alaska’s Bristol Bay overlaps with their critical habitat, and proposed exploration would expose right whales and other marine species to threats such as noise pollution, oil spills, chemical pollution, vessel collisions and entanglement with or ingestion of marine debris.

This latest danger first presented itself on January9, when President Bush revoked the former moratorium on drilling in Bristol Bay. While bills to block leasing in the Bristol Bay are currently pending in both chambers of Congress, the Bush Administration’s new 5-Year Oil and Gas Leasing Program of the Minerals Management Service is currently set to go into effect. The program includes plans for a lease sale in the Bristol Bay and other US coastal areas.

At this summer’s International Whaling Commission meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, several governments voiced concern over the effects of oil and gas drilling on this highly endangered species. The US government must be pressed to refrain from subjecting North Pacific right whales to this potentially devastating action.