Photo by Christopher Michel, CC license
The US administration has announced that it will officially protect 116,098 square nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for three endangered humpback whale populations.
The final rule could help protect migrating whales from collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and oil spills.
The move follows a 2018 legal victory by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wishtoyo Foundation and the Turtle Island Restoration Network – which filed a lawsuit over the federal government’s failure to designate critical habitat as the law on endangered species requires it.
“Pacific humpback whales have finally got the habitat protection they have needed for so long. Now we need to better protect humpback whales from collisions with vessels and entanglements in fishing gear, which are their main causes of death, ”said Catherine Kilduff, a lawyer for the Center, in a statement. “To restore the west coast populations of these majestic and playful whales, we must impose mandatory speed limits on vessels and convert California’s deadly traps into cordless fishing gear. “
In January, the Center for Biological Diversity also sued the federal government for failing to protect endangered whales from the fast ships that use California ports. The organization also co-sponsors the California Whale Entanglement Prevention Act (Assembly Bill 534), which would require commercial Dungeness crab and other state trap fisheries to convert to cordless gear (also known under the name of “on demand” or “lifting buoy” gear) by the end of 2025.
An endangered humpback whale population that feeds off the coast of California has fewer than 800 individuals, making them vulnerable to threats from humans.
This rule is a victory because it designates a total of 224,030 square nautical miles for both endangered populations and one threatened population, but the habitat overlap means 116,098 square nautical miles will be protected.
Specifically, the rule designates 48,521 square nautical miles of critical habitat off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington for the humpback whale population that winters in Central America.
The population of Mexico obtained 116,098 square nautical miles in the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska – regions that also make up the 59,411 square nautical miles listed for the humpback whale population. of the Pacific Northwest.
“Today is a good day for humpback whales and the ocean on which all living things depend,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Designating 116,000 square miles of critical habitat in the ocean is something to celebrate, but whales, turtles and dolphins still need additional protection from industrial fishing and ship strikes to recover. and prosper, so we will not rest on our laurels. “
Protecting critical habitats will help safeguard ocean areas essential for migration and foraging. The designation will ensure that federally authorized activities do not destroy or damage important whale habitat. There is evidence that threatened or endangered species that benefit from protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those that do not, which is good news.
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