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Drilling in Bristol Bay Could Be Nail in the Coffin for World's Most Endangered Whale Population

ANCHORAGE - At the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, WWF released a new report detailing the potential threats oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay would have to the eastern North Pacific right whale, the most endangered whale population in the world. Fifteen cetacean species occur in Bristol Bay, a spectacularly rich area of marine life, including the endangered bowhead, blue, fin, sei, humpback and sperm whales. A planned lease sale area in Bristol Bay overlaps with critical habitat designated for the eastern North Pacific right.

"Offshore oil and gas development in Bristol Bay would be the wrong step for the right whale," said Margaret Williams, director of WWF's Bering Sea program. "This is a risk we simply can't afford to take. It would jeopardize the nation's most important fishery, the hundreds of communities that rely on fishing and a treasure trove of wildlife."

On January 9, 2007, President Bush rescinded a long-standing presidential moratorium that prohibited drilling in Bristol Bay. In July the new Five Year Oil and Gas Leasing Program of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) - a U.S. government agency - goes into effect and includes plans for a lease sale in Bristol Bay and other areas along the U.S. coastline. Bills to block leasing in Bristol Bay are pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Oil and gas exploration in the Bristol Bay area would expose whales to noise pollution, oil spills, chemical pollution, vessel collisions and entanglement with or ingestion of marine debris. There are no reliable estimates of current abundance or trends for right whales in the North Pacific. According to U.S. government sources, there may be fewer than 300 of these animals left compared to a pre-whaling population of more than 11,000.

Bristol Bay is also the epicenter of the Bering Sea fishery whose commercial salmon, halibut, herring and crab fisheries generate more than $2 billion annually. Sport hunters and fishermen flock to the bay each year, pumping millions of dollars more into the economy. And the region's spectacular wildlife supports scores of Alaskan natives who rely on a healthy ecosystem for food.

"The MMS has calculated average estimates from drilling to generate a total of $7.7 billion, but that's just a fraction of the annual flow of $2 billion from the Bering Sea's renewable and sustainable fishery," said Karen Gillis, executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.

WWF has a delegation attending the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission. WWF will issues press statements when appropriate on decisions taken, and results of votes, at IWC 59 in Anchorage. The WWF delegation will be available for interviews.

Whales and Climate Change: On May 22, WWF and The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society launched a new report "Whales in hot water?" - The impacts of a changing climate on Whales Dolphins and porpoises: A Call to Action." The report can be downloaded here.

Additional communications materials are available at :
WWF position paper on whaling and the IWC
Whales killed since the moratorium chart and graphs
Japanese Scientific Whaling: Irresponsible Science, Irresponsible Whaling

Footage and interview with Dr. Susan Lieberman: available at If you are a first-time user, please take a moment to register. In case you have any questions, please email

Contacts for media:
In Anchorage: Tom Lalley (e-mail: and Sarah Janicke (e-mail:

Additional contacts: Olivier van Bogaert, WWF International's Press Office, t +41 22 364 9554, e-mail: and Joanna Benn, t +39 06 84497 212, m +39 348 726 7313, e-mail: