Feds Agree to Protect More Critical Habitat for Right Whales

A deadline for expanding critical habitat protections for the North Atlantic right whale — one of the world’s most endangered whales — has been set in response to a legal settlement agreement. Each year most of the 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining on Earth migrate from their feeding and breeding grounds off the U.S. Northeast to their nursery areas off the Southeast. But only a tiny portion of this expansive range is protected as federally designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act, making the whales more vulnerable to threats that include commercial fishing gear, ship strikes and oil drilling.

The settlement requires the federal government to make a final decision by February 2016 about where and how much additional habitat should be protected.

“If these whales are going to survive in the long run, we need to protect the most important waters where they live, eat and raise their young,” said Sarah Uhlemann, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Every year these endangered whales have to navigate a virtual obstacle course of threats on their migration along the coast — an ocean dense with fishing nets and lines, crisscrossed by speeding vessels and increasingly roaring with underwater noise.”

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