The North Atlantic right whale – a critically endangered species – will get an additional 39,414 square miles (102,081 square km) of protected habitat, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Jane Davenport, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife, said that there are fewer than five hundred North Atlantic right whales in the wild, which means that every individual is important when it comes to the species’ recovery and survival.
The critical habitat – defined under the Endangered Species Act as an area that contains features essential to the protection and conservation of a species – will comprise of the calving areas of the right whales between North Carolina and Florida, and the northeast feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine.
Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, stated that there are signs of recovery for the North Atlantic right whales: their population has increased from three hundred in 1994, to about five hundred individuals in 2015.
According to Sarah Uhlemann, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, right whales are still faced with a number of threats, including oil drilling in the Atlantic, ship strikes, and entanglement in fishing gear. Even though the new rule protects the whales’ southern calving ground and their northern feeding areas, they do not protect the animals’ migratory route between the two locations.
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the executive director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, stated that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also need to protect the migratory routes. The whales should be safe when commuting between their calving and feeding grounds, she added.
Commercial whaling in the 17th and 18th century led to a massive decline in the North Atlantic right whale populations. They were referred to as ‘right’ simply because they were the right whales to hunt: they had a lot of the oil that the hunters desired, floated after being killed, and were also slow swimmers.
In 2014, there were only about 115 adult females left in the wild. Female North Atlantic right whales usually give birth to a calf every three years, so even the loss of one female could affect the species’ recovery process, experts said.
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