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Endangered Right Whales May Receive Critical Habitat

Feb 18, 2015 12:32 PM EST
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North Atlantic right whales are a critically endangered species, and so federal officials proposed that they receive 39,655 square miles of critical habitat along the East Coast in order to save them from extinction.

Currently the proposed protected waters include parts of southern Georgia and northern Florida, however, this does not include the whales' migratory routes through the mid-Atlantic. Given this more expansive range, a number of conservation groups argued to expand their designated critical habitat from Florida and southern Georgia to southern North Carolina, including areas that will support calving and nursing.

"Survey data and other studies over the past 20 years have increased our understanding of right whale ecology and habitat needs," Eileen Sobeck of the NOAA Fisheries said in a statement.

Right whales are the rarest of all large whales, with only 450 of them left today. They are unique for their enormous heads, which can take up one-third of their total body length. Unfortunately, just a century ago they were hunted to the brink of extinction, their plentiful oil and baleen used for corsets, buggy whips, and other devices.

These 70-ton creatures were officially labeled on endangered species in 1970 and have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, but even since their protections began, the whales have remained imperiled.

Ship strikes, line entanglements, offshore energy development and noise pollution are considered the biggest threats.

"Right whales are at an extinction crossroads right now - offshore oil drilling, military sonar and commercial shipping on the Atlantic pose a serious risk to their survival. Protecting critical habitat between calving and foraging areas will be essential to saving these majestic whales," Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release.

Hopefully by designating a more widespread critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales, human activity won't interfere as this critically endangered species struggles on its road to recovery.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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