NOAA Fisheries to Review Critical Habitat for Rare Large Whale Species in Alaska

Agency announces a positive 90-day finding on a petition to expand North Pacific right whale critical habitat; seeks public comment.

A North Pacific right whale surfaces in the waters off Alaska. Credit: NOAA Fisheries
A North Pacific right whale surfaces in the waters off Alaska. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries is initiating a review of designated critical habitat for endangered North Pacific right whales, of which there are only an estimated 30 animals remaining. The review is in response to a petition we received on March 10, 2022 from the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale. The petition requested a revision to the critical habitat designation for the species.

Currently, NOAA Fisheries has designated 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.

The petition requests we revise this critical habitat to connect the two existing critical habitat areas. This would entail extending the Southeast Bering Sea boundary west and south to the Fox Islands, through Unimak Pass to the edge of the continental slope. It would also be extended east to the Gulf of Alaska critical habitat area off the coast of Kodiak Island.

The requested expansion of critical habitat overlaps with productive fishing areas and high-volume maritime transit routes.

The petition includes information on the movement and behavior of the species in and around the currently designated critical habitat since the original designation in 2008. This information comes from a combination of visual sightings and acoustic data.

The petitioners assert that the data support the requested revision, the goal of which is to encompass a “key migratory point” and provide “connectivity between two essential foraging grounds.” The petitioners state that the physical and biological features in the proposed revised critical habitat require special management considerations and protections.

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Read complete article at NOAA Fisheries