U.S. federal regulations to protect North Atlantic Right Whales have been delayed, according to a recent court filing.

The delay is due to state and federal bureaucratic complications that are slowing the process, and it may take years before the rule-making process is complete.

According to Oceana, these whales are running out of time. With only around 400 of them remaining, they need protections from a leading cause of death: fishing gear entanglements. In the past month alone, one of the remaining North Atlantic Right Whales was seen entangled in fishing gear near Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Gib Brogan, Fisheries Campaign Manager at Oceana, had this to say:

“The delay to issue fishing regulations to protect North Atlantic right whales is irresponsible and negligent. These whales cannot afford more inaction and suspensions from federal and state governments, their survival requires solutions now. Every day these endangered whales navigate a minefield of fishing gear, and we know they are dying from fishing gear entanglements. [The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] must find a way to reduce the number of lines in the water and issue urgent interim measures to protect these whales before time runs out.”

Dragging lines attached to heavy fishing gear slows these whales down, making it difficult to swim, reproduce and feed, and in some cases, can drown them. Roughly 1 million fishing lines sprawl across right whale migration routes and feeding areas in the U.S. and Canada.

For more info on threats to the North Atlantic Right Whale population, check out this Oceana fact sheet.

(Image credit: Nick Hawkins)

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