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Soundings Archive

NMFS Proposes Critical Habitat Expansion For Northern Right Whales
The right whale got its name from commercial fisherman who believed they were the ‘right' whales to hunt because they are slow, hug the shoreline, and float when killed. As a result, right whales were fished near extinction. The North Pacific right whale was believed extinct until new sightings began in the 1960s. Illegal hunting by the Soviet Union during the 1960s almost eliminated this population. At the current time, there are an estimated less-than-100 right whales in the eastern North Pacific (Bering sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska).

In response to litigation and a court order, the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") on November 2, 2005, proposed to expand the Critical Habitat ("CH") of the northern right whale. The proposed expansion is under authority of the Endangered Species Act. In the NMFS's own words, the Agency
    "proposes to revise the current critical habitat for the northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) by designating additional areas within the North Pacific Ocean. Two specific areas proposed for designation, one in the Gulf of Alaska and another in the Bering Sea, comprise approximately 95,200 square kilometers (36,750 square miles) of marine habitat. Based upon the impacts analysis prepared for this action, NMFS has concluded that the benefits of exclusion of any area from the proposed critical habitat designation do not outweigh the benefits of inclusion. Consequently, no exclusions are proposed.

    NMFS must consider the broad effects of this designation (revision). NMFS solicits comments from the public on all aspects of the proposal, including information on the economic, national security, and other relevant impacts of the proposed designation. NMFS may revise this proposal and solicit additional comments prior to final designation to address new information received during the comment period."
The NMFS asks for public comment on specific right whale management and protection considerations, including "global climate change" and "pollution from various potential sources":
    An occupied area may be designated as CH if it contains physical and biological features that ``may require special management considerations or protection.'' 50 CFR 424.02(j) defines ``special management considerations or protection'' to mean ``any methods or procedures useful in protecting physical and biological features of the environment for the conservation of listed species.'' NMFS considered whether the copepods and other zooplankton in feeding areas, which have been identified as the PCEs [primary constituent elements] for the northern right whale in the North Pacific Ocean, may require special management considerations or protection.

    Copepods can be affected by physical and chemical alterations within the water column both by natural processes such as global climate change or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, as well as by pollution from various potential sources, including oil spills and discharges resulting from oil and gas drilling and production. The outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas exploration and development permits or authorizations already are routinely conditioned with operational restraints, mitigative measures, or technological changes to protect the marine environment from these impacts. While such management measures and protections are not necessarily designed to protect copepods or zooplankton in right whale feeding areas per se, they could be useful in protecting these PCEs for the conservation of northern right whales in the North Pacific Ocean.

    NMFS specifically requests comment on the extent to which the designated PCEs [primary constituent elements] may require special management considerations or protection."
Anyone who wishes NMFS to hold a public hearing on the proposed northern right whale CH expansion must request the hearing by December 19, 2005.

Comment on the proposed CH expansion must be submitted by January 3, 2006.
  • Click here for Federal Register notice of NMFS' proposed CH expansion for right whale
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