Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
May 22, 2001
NMFS ANNOUNCES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION MAY BE WARRANTED FOR BOWHEAD WHALE
CBD's scientific petition would designate approximately 26.5 million acres of protected habitat in Alaska's Arctic Ocean
Contact: Brent Plater
"NMFS' action today is the first step in protecting the Bowhead's home range from incompatible oil and gas development," said Brent Plater, CBD attorney. "Oil spills are a big concern in the continued recovery of this species, and the critical habitat designation will help eliminate the risk of a catastrophic spill."
The critical habitat designation is being sought to protect the Bowhead Whale, which inhabits the Arctic Waters around Alaska's North Shore. Bowheads were hunted almost to extinction the 19th century, and have been listed as an endangered species since 1970. Because of their remote location, they are one of the least well-known baleen whales in the world. However, large-scale off-shore oil exploration and development has proliferated within the Bowhead's proposed critical habitat, exposing the Bowhead's to disruptive noise levels, dangerous oil spills, and deadly collisions with ships.
The ESA defines critical habitat as "areas essential for the survival and recovery of species." Federal agencies may not authorize, permit, or fund projects which destroy or "adversely modify" critical habitat. Many activities in the proposed critical habitat need permits from federal agencies, and the critical habitat designation will require the agencies to consult with NMFS to evaluate the impact of their activities on the whale's habitat.