NOAA Fisheries has announced its decision to revise endangered North Pacific right whale habitat. The agency noted that there are only an estimated 30 eastern North Pacific right whales remaining.
Critical habitat for North Pacific right whales was designated in 2008 and consists of two areas: one in the Southeast Bering Sea, the other in the Gulf of Alaska off the coast of Kodiak Island. The areas are about 35,460 square miles and 1,175 square miles, respectively.
NOAA officials said their decision is in response to a petition received March 10, 2022 from the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale.
The petition asked that NOAA revise the critical habitat designation for the species to connect the two existing critical habitat areas. Doing so would entail extending the Southeast Bering Sea boundary west and south to the Fox Islands, through Unimak Pass to the edge of the continental slope.
It would also extend east to the Gulf of Alaska critical habitat area off the coast of Kodiak Island.
NOAA said that the agency has not yet decided whether to propose the specific revision recommended by the petitioners or some other revision to the critical habitat designation.
On July 12, NOAA published a 90-day finding that the petitioned revision may be warranted. The agency also initiated a review of currently designated critical habitat and sought public comments over a 60-day period.
NOAA then considered information received during the comment period and concluded that a revision to the North Pacific right whale habitat is warranted. Agency officials said they’ll also consider potential economic, national security, and any other relevant impact of designating any particular areas, as critical habitat.
Based on the data supporting critical habitat, NOAA said it would revise the critical habitat and develop a proposed rule that would undergo public comment and a final rule that addresses information and comments received during the comment period.