The eastern North Pacific right whale population ranges from the Bering Sea to Baja California and is down to only about 30 individuals. With few reproducing females, it is at extreme risk of imminent extinction.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— NOAA Fisheries announced today that expanding critical habitat protections in Alaska for North Pacific right whales — the most endangered whale population in the world — may be warranted.
The decision came in response to a petition filed in March by two groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale, urging the federal government to revise the critical habitat designation for North Pacific right whales under the Endangered Species Act.
“Safeguarding the North Pacific right whale’s habitat is crucial to protecting these magnificent animals,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The threats to North Pacific right whales grow with each passing day. This review has come not a moment too soon.”
“We applaud NOAA Fisheries’ initial finding as a hopeful first step,” said Kevin Campion, a boat captain and founder of Save the North Pacific Right Whale. “We also applaud the agency’s survey efforts that expanded our knowledge of how North Pacific right whales are using the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. These whales are in the state they are because of human activity. Taking steps to see that we cause them no more harm is the right thing to do.”
In April 2008 the Fisheries Service issued a final rule designating approximately 1,175 square miles in the Gulf of Alaska and approximately 35,460 square miles in the Southeast Bering Sea as critical habitat for North Pacific right whales.
Since that time, new surveys and research have confirmed two key habitats essential for this right whale population’s survival — a migratory corridor through the Fox Islands in the Aleutian chain, including Unimak Pass, and feeding grounds near Kodiak Island. The review will determine if these areas will be designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act and connect the two existing units.
Acoustic surveys verified that right whales use Unimak Pass during and outside the assumed migratory season. This follows another important discovery scientists made in an earlier acoustical analysis: North Pacific right whales put calls into distinguishable, consistent songs — making them the first right whales ever known to sing.
The Fisheries Service must now make a final decision on the petition within one year.
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.
Head Image: North Pacific Right Whale (Eubalaena japonica). (c) John Durban, NOAA