In the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, there are two areas designated as critical habitat for North Pacific right whales. We aim to connect them.
In 2008, when the North Pacific right whale was designated as an endangered species separate from the North Atlantic right whale, critical habitats were declared in Alaska. A critical habitat is an area that is important to the species and its conservation. Fishing is still allowed in this critical habitat. The policy suggestions that have come out of this designation are surrounding the whales’ food source: plankton. Plankton is sensitive to pollution, so measures are recommended to reduce pollution in the area, like improving navigation to prevent wrecks and oil spills.
Sightings in Critical habitats
Critical habitat Expansion
In March 2022, Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale submitted a petition to the federal government to expand the critical habitat of endangered North Pacific right whales. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) then had 90 days to determine if our request had merit or not. In July 2022, NOAA responded with “the petition provides substantial scientific information indicating that revision of critical habitat may be warranted.” This response initiated a year-long data review to determine if they will expand the habitat, which is currently ongoing.
Located between the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska critical habitats, Unimak Pass is a well-traveled bottleneck for both whales and boats. As a major pass through the Aleutian Islands, it is a shipping lane for cargo and container ships traveling between Asia and North America. North Pacific right whales have been seen around Unimak in April 1993, September 2004, and February 2022. They’ve been heard there year-round as well. Given the high density of boats, this is a prime location for vessel-whale interactions such as ship strikes and noise disturbance. After the 2022 sighting, NOAA urged mariners in the area to slow to 10 knots or less, keep an eye out and report any further sightings, and stay at least 500 yards away from whales if they see them.