A final rule passed by the Biden administration protects endangered Pacific humpback whale habitat. The rule designates 224,030 square nautical miles as “critical habitat,” but overlapping habitats along the California coast totals 116,098 square nautical miles of protection.
After the Center for Biological Diversity, Wishtoyo Foundation and Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the federal government over its “failure to designate critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act,” the organizations celebrated the “legal victory,” according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Pacific humpbacks finally got the habitat protections they’ve needed for so long,” Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biodiversity, said.
The rule will protect two endangered and one threatened whale populations. It will also designate 48,521 square nautical miles off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington for the humpback population that winters in Central America and 116,098 square nautical miles in the North Pacific Ocean, including Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for the Mexico humpback whale population, according to the press release.
“Today is a good day for humpback whales and the ocean all living things depend on,” Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said. “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 thrive, so we won’t be resting on our laurels.”
According to the Center for Biodiversity, ships and fishing gear are the biggest threats to the humpback whales’ habitat. The organization co-sponsored the the California Whale Entanglement Prevention Act (Assembly Bill 534) to require commercial fisheries use ropeless gear by the end of 2025
“Now we need to better protect humpbacks from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, their leading causes of death,” Kilduff said. “To recover West Coast populations of these playful, majestic whales, we need mandatory ship speed limits and conversion of California’s deadly trap fisheries to ropeless gear.”