Right steps taken toward habitat protection for North Atlantic whales

BREAKING: The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will revise critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species that clings to survival with less than 400 individuals remaining.

The action comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The lawsuit challenged the agency’s failure to respond to the groups’ August 2009 petition, which sought to expand current critical habitat protections because areas located off the coast of New England and the Georgia/Florida border are inadequate to provide for the recovery of the whales. The government’s announcement today confirmed that the need to expand protected areas and indicated that the agency will propose new boundaries next year.

Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife said, “Critical habitat ensures precautions are taken when potentially dangerous activities like oil drilling and commercial shipping are being planned and carried out. Because these animals share our busy Atlantic Coastal waters, we need to make sure that risky activities in the places they call home aren’t going to hinder their ability to return to a sustainable population.”

Background:

  • Right whales migrate from their calving grounds off the Southeastern U.S. to their feeding grounds off the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.  Adult female right whales reproduce slowly – reaching reproductive maturity at around age 8 and giving birth to one calf every four years.
  • The only known calving ground for North Atlantic right whales is off the coast of Georgia and Florida, with documented births outside of the area currently designated as critical habitat. In 2008, 18 of 19 newborn calves documented were in areas just outside of the protected area.
  • Each year female right whales die from being hit by ships or entanglement in commercial fishing gear in unprotected areas.  In one 18 month period, three pregnant females and their full-term young died after being hit by ships outside of their critical habitat.

Learn more:

Click here to read the full release.

See how Defenders is working to protect the critically endangered right whale.

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