In the U.S., a cetacean species deemed to be “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” is protected as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Cetacean species which are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future are protected as “threatened.” The ESA prohibits the taking of any endangered or threatened species, including any distinct population segment (DPS) of a species, subject to certain exceptions. Take is defined by the ESA as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct." Cetacean species (including DPSs), which are currently listed under the ESA include:
- Beluga whale, Cook Inlet DPS (not including Yakutat Bay animals) (endangered)
- Blue whale (endangered)
- Bowhead whale (endangered)
- Chinese River dolphin / baiji (endangered) 3
- False killer whale, Main Hawaiian Islands insular DPS (endangered)
- Fin whale (endangered)
- Gray whale, all stocks except the eastern North Pacific stock (endangered)
- Humpback whale (endangered Cape Verde Islands/Northwest Africa DPS, endangered Western North Pacific DPS; endangered Arabian Sea DPS, endangered Central America DPS; threatened Mexico DPS)
- Indus River dolphin (endangered)
- Killer whale, Southern Resident DPS (endangered)
- Maui dolphin (endangered)
- North Atlantic right whale (endangered)
- North Pacific right whale (endangered)
- Sei whale (endangered)
- South Island Hector’s dolphin (threatened)
- Southern right whale (endangered)
- Sperm whale (endangered)
- Taiwanese humpback dolphin (endangered)
- Vaquita (endangered)
In 2016, NMFS revised the ESA listing for the humpback whale to identify 14 separate DPSs. One DPS was listed as threatened, four DPSs were listed as endangered, and nine other DPSs were found to not warrant ESA listing. More information on the revised ESA listing of the humpback whale is available online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/humpback-whale.html.
The ESA requires the federal government to review activities that may adversely affect threatened or endangered species and their critical habitats. Accordingly, all U.S. federal agencies must consult with NMFS or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on activities they directly carry out, authorize, or fund that may affect a listed species. These interagency consultations (also called “section 7” consultations), assist federal agencies to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of a species or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. The Services document their findings in written Biological Opinions, which may authorize limited incidental "take" of ESA-listed species while specifying the amount or extent of take anticipated and the measures necessary to minimize impacts from the federal action.
For threatened or endangered marine mammals that spend time outside U.S. waters, the U.S. works with other nations to promote the recovery of the shared stocks. In particular, NMFS coordinates closely with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans on efforts to recover endangered North Atlantic right whales and Southern Resident killer whales.
More information on NMFS’ endangered species conservation efforts is available online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/endangered-species-conservation.
In the U.S., a cetacean species deemed to be “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” is protected as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).