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Endangered Species Bulletin - Summer 2009
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, shares responsibility for implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Generally, the Fish and Wildlife Service manages terrestrial and freshwater species, while NMFS manages most marine and anadromous species. NMFS is responsible for conserving 68 species listed under the ESA, from large whales to sea turtles, corals, and fish, including Pacific salmon.
A list of threatened species including scientific names, the year the species was listed, and the current status of the species.
Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and steelhead (O. mykiss), treasured icons of the West Coast, are important to our ecosystems, economy, and culture. But many populations are seriously declining in numbers and range. Since 1991, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has listed 28 distinctive groups of salmon and steelhead as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); 6 are listed as endangered and 22 are threatened. The spawning ranges of these protected species include the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, spanning approximately 176,000 square miles (about 456,000 square kilometers) of habitat.
Concern about the expected impacts of long-term climate changes on natural climate variability is increasing. Ecosystems respond to, and are highly coupled with, climate variability. The effects are particularly acute in the Pacific Northwest, where ocean productivity, snow pack, and river hydrology respond quickly to changes in climate. This region supports a wide diversity of wildlife, including many valuable commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as endangered and threatened salmon populations.
Coral species around the world face numerous threats that vary from natural to human-induced, severe to slight, and global to local in scale. Unfortunately, few first-hand observers of the once biologically diverse "rainforests of the sea" remain. Most people today only know of such healthy coral reefs through photographs. Some of the threats to coral reefs are well understood, while others we are just beginning to comprehend.
High international demand for marine species is producing increased fishing pressure and illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, resulting in significant population declines for many species. An important international trade and wildlife conservation treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), regulates international trade to ensure sustainability of species listed on CITES appendices. An excellent example of the positive impact that CITES can have on a marine species is found in the case of the queen conch (Strombus gigas).
Once described as the most imperiled of all marine turtles, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) plunged to less than one percent of its historical population within a few decades. Intensive exploitation of turtle eggs and the drowning of adults in shrimp trawls were responsible for most of the decline. The Kemp’s ridley has been protected by the United States since 1973 under the Endangered Species Act and by Mexico since 1994. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the Kemp’s ridley as critically endangered. Thanks to a bi-national conservation and recovery program, the future for this species now appears to be much brighter.
Question: What is the most critically endangered marine mammal whose entire range lies within the United States?
Answer: The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi).
On October 28, 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) confirmed the extinction of the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) and removed it from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. This makes it the first species of seal to go extinct as a direct result of human activities.
Longline fishing poses one of the greatest threats to threatened and endangered Pacific sea turtles. This fishing method typically consists of suspending a large number of baited hooks attached at regular intervals over a horizontal mainline more than a mile in length. Sea turtles are incidentally hooked or entangled in the gear, or in other words, become bycatch.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca), sometimes called orcas, are a focus of public interest, scientific curiosity, and awe. Many people in the Pacific Northwest feel a connection to these family- oriented mammals, and Indian tribes hold them in high regard. The cultural and spiritual importance of these whales to the people of the Pacific Northwest is an essential part of conserving these amazing animals for future generations.
Humans and other terrestrial animals live in a world of colorful and varying landscapes, appreciated most commonly by the sense of sight. The marine environment is very different in many ways, and hearing has become the predominate means of sensing the underwater world. If one listens carefully, it is possible to grasp the complexity and diversity of the marine "soundscape" and its importance to the species that use sound to sense their environment. It also does not take long to comprehend the power of human-created (anthropogenic) noise to alter these soundscapes.
The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the most critically endangered large whale species in the world. Early whalers called them the "right whale" to hunt because they were often found near the shore and they floated when killed. Today, collisions with vessels are the primary threat to right whales because their migration route crosses major East Coast shipping lanes.
Who hasn’t heard of the monumental migrations of salmon, sturgeon, and shad? They return from the ocean to the river where they were born and swim up to hundreds of miles upstream for the single-minded purpose of breeding. As impressive as this feat may be, dams and other artificial barriers have blocked many fish from reaching their former spawning grounds. In these cases, an uphill swim becomes not just a challenge but a serious battle for survival of the species. This is particularly true for fish that are threatened or endangered.
The Ventura River watershed in southern California is designated as critical habitat for an endangered population of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Eliminating threats to steelhead in this watershed, which has unique physical and biological characteristics, is crucial to conserving the listed population (Boughton et al. 2006). Although few of the fish remain, the prognosis for Ventura River steelhead is not entirely gloomy. Thanks to conservation partnerships, work to restore the fish and its essential habitat has begun.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has two programs designed to conserve potentially at-risk species that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA): the Candidate Species program and the Species of Concern (SOC) program.
The states play an essential role in conserving and recovering plants and animals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Congress recognized this fact in section 6 of the ESA, "Cooperation with the States." Section 6 authorizes federal agencies to engage in cooperative conservation agreements with state natural resource agencies and to provide financial assistance for state endangered species programs. Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implement section 6 to conserve and recover species under their respective jurisdictions.
In the first six months of 2009 (through June 30), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published the following proposed and final listing rules under the Endangered Species Act (ESA):
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