North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) have been suffering massive population declines since the 18th century. This species of whale has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since the 1970s. Although populations have been on the rise since 1994, with only 500 remaining whales worldwide, the species is still on the brink of extinction.
The North Atlantic Right Whale was given its name because it was thought as the “right” kind of whale to hunt. The reason they were considered the “right” type of whale to hunt by commercial whalers was that they swim very slowly compared to other whales and when they are killed, they don’t sink. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is giving these whales a larger habitat in hopes that populations will rebound.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, NOAA has set aside 39,414 square miles of protected marine habitat for the critically endangered whales. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the total area is broken up between the whale’s feeding and breeding grounds. These areas are located from the Gulf of Maine to the waters of North Carolina and Florida. Despite the extra marine habitat designation experts remain concerned.
Although these whales will have more protected areas to live in, they face other dangers such as commercial fishing and offshore oil drilling activities, including oil prospecting.
Although these whales will have more protected areas to live in, they face other dangers such as commercial fishing and offshore oil drilling activities, including oil prospecting. Critics say that the new measures do not take into consideration whale migratory routes. They state that these routes must be protected by NOAA, otherwise the whales will be left vulnerable when traveling to and from their feeding and breeding grounds.
In a press release from NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region no new restrictions or measures for commercial fishing operations will be implemented. The decision to grant more protected habitat to the whales came from 35-years of aircraft and ship surveys of the species’ distribution in the area and foraging behavior. You can read the final rule, supporting documents and view the maps of the newly protected areas on the NOAA’s website.