Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 1, 2020


Lalli Venkatakrishnan, (510) 676-0348,

Lawsuit Threatened Over Federal Failure to Update Marine Mammal Assessments

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sent a notice of its intent to sue the Trump administration today for failing to update population analyses for polar bears, walruses, sea otters and manatees, as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The notice follows the administration’s move to rush through oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas and to roll back Arctic offshore drilling safety regulations before Trump leaves office in January.

“It’s no accident this administration refuses to update stock assessments for polar bears and other species highly vulnerable to oil spills. Trump is again ignoring his legal obligations as a favor to Big Oil,” said Lalli Venkatakrishnan, an attorney with the Center. “This is about good science. The feds must know how marine mammal populations are doing before allowing any harm to these animals from oil and gas activity and other threats.”

Today’s notice letter to the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks for immediate updates to expired stock assessments for two stocks of polar bears, Pacific walruses, three stocks of northern sea otters in Alaska, the southern sea otter stock in California and two stocks of West Indian manatees around Florida and Puerto Rico.

The southern Beaufort Sea stock of polar bears is threatened by proposed oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge and Western Arctic, where Interior officials recently delayed publication of a study on how the animals are harmed by oil development. Declining sea otters in California could also complicate ExxonMobil’s current push to restart its three dormant offshore drilling platforms near Santa Barbara.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required by law to prepare stock assessment reports for all marine mammals under its jurisdiction, including polar bears, sea otters, walruses and manatees. These stock assessments are woefully outdated: Some haven’t been updated in more than a decade.

Accurate stock assessments are essential to the management of marine mammal populations and must be based on the best scientific information available. The stock assessment reports serve to protect marine mammals by analyzing threats and setting sustainable levels of human-caused serious injury and mortality to marine mammals. They also guide management actions for commercial fisheries, oil and gas activities, military activities, coastal development and other activities that may harm marine mammals. The agency’s failures are depriving these marine mammals of science-based management necessary for their conservation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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