Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

October 31, 2005
Contact: Brent Plater (415) 436-9682 x 301


San Francisco, CA— In response to a strongly-worded opinion criticizing the agency for failing to protect the world’s most imperiled whale, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it is proposing to protect 36,000 square miles of critical habitat for the North Pacific Right Whale in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. The agency will now accept public comment on the proposal and finalize the proposed rule within 12 months.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for science, for right whales, and for everyone who wants to be a good neighbor to these imperiled whales,” said Brent Plater, author of the original petition to protect right whale habitats in the Bering Sea and an attorney in the case to protect the right whale’s habitats. “But if Congress moves forward with its attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act, the right whale whale’s recovery in the Bering Sea will be jeopardized no matter how good these habitat protections prove to be.”

The Endangered Species Act is a federal law providing a safety net for fish, wildlife, and plants that are on the brink of extinction. The law recognizes that one of the most effective ways to protect imperiled species is to protect the places they live, and recent scientific reports confirm that species with their critical habitats protected are twice as likely to be recovering as those species without their critical habitats protected.

The North Pacific Right Whale is so rare that in the 1980s a sighting of a single individual was deemed worthy of publication in scientific journals. However, beginning in 1996 scientists began to see a congregation of Right Whales annually in the Bering Sea, and in 2004 scientists found more Right Whales in this area than were found in the previous five years.

In light of these remarkable sightings, in 2000 the Center for Biological Diversity formally requested that NMFS protect the Right Whale’s “critical habitat” as required by the federal Endangered Species Act. However, NMFS refused to protect any habitat for the whale, even though the species’ critical summertime habitats had been found. The Center then requested that NMFS reconsider its determination, but the agency never responded to any of the Center’s requests. The Center was thus left with no choice but to initiate litigation in late 2004 to insure that the Right Whale’s recovery was not impeded.

“The Right Whale was nearly hunted to extinction, and so it is our shared responsibility to insure that this species survives,” said Plater. “We owe it to future generations to protect this special creature, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to protect the places the whales call home.”

Photos and further information are available online at


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