bowhead whale is the northernmost and one of the least well
known of the baleen whale species. It was hunted almost to extinction
in the 19th Century, and has been on the federal endangered
species list since 1970. The bowhead receives protection primarily
under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection
Act, and from the International Whaling Commission.
22, 2000 -
Petition filed to Designate Critical Habitat for the Bowhead
Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to designate
critical habitat for the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Sea Stock
of the bowhead whale, Baleana mysticetus, under the Endangered
Species Act. The Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Sea Stock is the
largest and most viable of five extant bowhead stocks, yet
it is simultaneously the most threatened by human activity.
Large scale industrial development and the associated vessel
traffic of the oil and gas industry have proliferated within
the bowhead's proposed critical habitat since the late 1970's.
No fewer than five massive offshore projects are currently
in operation or in the planning stages in the Beaufort Sea,
and an additional four onshore facilities produce at least
some of their oil from offshore. The bowhead is threatened
by loud industrial noises and the corresponding rise in the
ambient noise level in the ocean, disturbance due to oil spills
and other substances, and from collisions with vessels.
Critical habitat is at the heart of the Endangered Species
Act, which was enacted to protect endangered species and the
ecosystems upon which they depend. Critical habitat is defined
as the area most essential for the survival and recovery of
the species that may require special management considerations.
The area that best meets this definition in the case of the
bowhead is the area in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone from
158º W (just east of Point Barrow) to the Canadian Border,
from the mean high tide line to approximately 170 km offshore.
A map of the area is available here.
habitat provides important protections to listed species.
Federal agencies must ensure that any action authorized, carried
out, or funded by them will not destroy or adversely modify
critical habitat, in addition to ensuring that any action
authorized, carried out, or funded will not jeopardize the
continued existence of the species. Protecting the ecosystem
upon which a species depends through the designation of critical
habitat is a vital part of the Endangered Species Act. This
protection for the arctic marine habitat of the bowhead is
doubly important because so little is known about the bowhead's
biology, natural history, and ability to withstand industrial
development of its habitat.
22, 2001 - NMFS Publishes a Positive Initial Decision
published a positive decision on our petition on May 22, 2001.
The positive finding does not provide immediate protection
for the Bowhead's habitat. Rather, it only begins another
procedural stage in the ESA, where NMFS must conduct a review
of the best scientific and economic information available
to determine how to proceed with the critical habitat proposal.
We will be watching NMFS closely to insure that the critical
habitat designation is finalized.