Oral arguments are scheduled Monday morning in a federal lawsuit that could spell the fates of the endangered North Atlantic right whale - and of New England's lobstermen.
Conservation groups brought the suit two years ago against the federal government in an attempt to force measures that would take the roughly 400 whales left off the path to extinction.
More than a dozen of the whales have died since then. A District Court Judge ruled earlier this year that the government failed to protect them against potentially deadly entanglements with lobster-fishing gear, as required by the Endangered Species act.
The court's question now is what's to be done about it, and how fast. Kristen Monsell, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, says the government should enact new protections by January.
"Every day that passes, every month that passes is too long for the right whale and we need changes on the water now," Monsell says. "We needed them yesterday, we needed then years ago. So the more we wait the more harm to right whales."
Conservation groups are also asking the judge for an immediate ban on the use of rope to place and haul lobster traps in an area near Nantucket where right whales have been congregating to feed in recent years.
The federal government says it needs until next May to complete a new scientific review and enact new protections.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Kristen Monsell as being with Defenders of Wildlife. Monsell is a lawyer with the Center for Biodiversity.