Marine mammals are being managed based on outdated population figures that show more animals than actually exist. Conservationists warn that this failure to provide accurate counts puts shrinking populations of polar bears, walrus, sea otters, and manatees in harms way.
Two conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for failing to take into account the latest information on global warming and population numbers in management decisions concerning protected marine mammals.
Stock assessments are population estimates that include information on the range of the species and threats to its survival.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce prepare stock assessments for marine mammals.
The assessments are meant to be used as the basis for management decisions such as permitting the killing or harassment of the animals from commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration, boating and shipping, and military exercises.
Since the last polar bear assessment in 2002, the species has been proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming, and a study by government scientists concluded that polar bears will be extinct in Alaska by mid-century without steep greenhouse gas reductions.