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Soundings Archive

NMFS Publishes Recovery Plan for Sperm Whale
On December 28, 2010, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice of an Endangered Species Act Recovery Plan for the sperm whale. The Recovery Plan contains revisions and additions in consideration of public comments received on the proposed draft Recovery Plan for the sperm whale.

Recovery plans describe actions considered necessary for the conservation and recovery of species listed under the ESA. The ESA requires that recovery plans incorporate (1) Objective, measurable criteria that, when met, would result in a determination that the species is no longer threatened or endangered; (2) site-specific management actions necessary to achieve the plan's goals; and (3) estimates of the time required and costs to implement recovery actions. The ESA requires the development of recovery plans for listed species unless such a plan would not promote the recovery of a particular species. NMFS' goal is to restore endangered sperm whale populations to the point where they are again secure, self-sustaining members of their cosystems and no longer need the protections of the ESA.

The Recovery Plan is organized, for convenience, by ocean basin and discussed in three sections: Those sperm whales in the Atlantic Ocean/Mediterranean Sea, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, those in the Pacific Ocean and its adjoining seas and gulfs, and those in the Indian Ocean.

The final Recovery Plan contains: (1) A comprehensive review of sperm whale ecology, (2) a threats assessment, (3) biological and recovery criteria for downlisting and delisting, (4) actions necessary for the recovery of the species, (5) an implementation schedule, and (6) estimates of time and cost to recovery.

The Recovery Plan presents a recovery strategy to address the potential threats based on the best available science and presents guidance for use by agencies and interested parties to assist in the recovery of the sperm whale. The threats assessment ranked threats as either having a/an Unknown, Unknown but Potentially Low, Low, Medium, or High relative impact to the recovery of sperm whales. Ranking assignments were determined by an expert panel with contributions from reviewers. Following are the threat rankings relative to the recovery of the sperm whale.

Fishery interactions in the Indian Ocean, anthropogenic noise from ship noise, oil and gas exploration, military sonar and explosives, contaminants and pollutants, and loss of prey base due to climate and ecosystem change were ranked as having an unknown impact.

Ship strikes was ranked as having an unknown but potentially low impact.

Fishery interactions in the Atlantic Ocean/Mediterranean Sea and Pacific Ocean disturbance from whale watching and other vessels, disease, injury from marine debris, disturbance due to research, predation and natural mortality, direct harvest, competition for resources, and cable laying were ranked as having a low impact.

No threats were identified as having a medium or high impact relative to the recovery of the fin whale.

The Recovery Plan identifies nine measures that need to be taken to ensure the recovery of sperm whales in the Atlantic Ocean/Mediterranean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Indian Ocean. The key features of the proposed recovery program for the sperm whale are to: (1) Coordinate State, Federal, and international actions to implement recovery efforts; (2) develop and apply methods to estimate population size and monitor trends in abundance; (3) determine population discreteness and stock structure; (4) conduct risk analyses; (5) identify, characterize, protect, and monitor habitat essential to sperm whale populations; (6) investigate causes of and reduce the frequency and severity of human-caused injury and mortality; (7) determine and minimize any detrimental effects of anthropogenic noise in the oceans; (8) maximize efforts to acquire scientific information from dead, stranded, and entangled sperm whales; and (9) develop a post-delisting monitoring plan.

  • Click here to read NMFS' Federal Register notice
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