Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION SOUGHT FOR WORLD'S MOST ENDANGERED WHALE
conservationists propose a portion of the southeast Bering Sea be designated critical habitat after five consecutive summers of northern right whale sightings
October 4, 2000
Contact: Brent Plater
The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a formal administrative petition to designate critical habitat for the North Pacific population of the northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) today. The petition was submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), and is consistent with NMFS' 1991 Final Recovery Plan for the whale. The recovery plan called for the identification of Pacific critical habitat and protection of that habitat to the fullest extent of the law.
"We've seen more right whales in the southeast Bering Sea the past five summers than we'd seen throughout the entire eastern Pacific the previous twenty" said Brent Plater, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's still too early to say the northern right whale is back from the brink, but if we designate this area as critical habitat we'll still have a chance to save this species."
Northern right whales are found north of 20° North lattitude in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but the two populations are isolated from one another. The whale received its common name when commercial whalers dubbed it the 'right whale' to hunt. After large scale commercial whaling nearly extirpated the species from both oceans, the northern right whale was recognized as the most endangered species of large whale in the world and listed as an endangered species in 1970.
Although no longer commercially hunted, northern right whales are killed each year by human activities. Ships entering and exiting ports strike and kill right whales as they feed, sleep, and play at the ocean's surface. Commercial fishing gear entangles the whales, suffocating them and/or preventing them from feeding, leading to eventual starvation. In addition, northern right whale habitats are being degraded by pollution and destroyed by habitat modification.
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.
"We need to work around the whales to ensure their survival," said Plater. "If we don't, the U.S. will be the first modern nation to be complicit in the extinction of a large whale. And that includes nations like Norway and Japan that continue to violate international whaling bans."