Endangered North Atlantic right whales

With only 500 individuals remaining, the North Atlantic right whale teeters on the brink of extinction. The biggest threat to this species is, and always has been, humans. Historically, right whale populations were depleted to near-extinction by whaling.

In January of 2016, nearly 40,000 square miles of protection was granted for the last 500 right whales.

In areas designated as critical habitat, the federal government must ensure that activities including commercial fishing, vessel traffic and oil drilling will not diminish the value of the habitat or reduce this critically endangered species’ chance for recovery. Their feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and Canada, their breeding grounds in the warmer waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and their entire mid-Atlantic migration route coincide with busy shipping lanes, fisheries and proposed energy activities. Since the primary threats to imperiled right whales are ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, and noise and pollution harm these creatures, designated critical habitat is a crucial piece of the puzzle to ensure their survival.

The map below shows the expanded area of right whale critical habitat. The Fisheries Service’s new rule protects crucial habitat for right whales, including the whale’s northeast feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region and their calving grounds from southern North Carolina to northern Florida. However, the rule does not protect the whales' twice-yearly migratory routes through the mid-Atlantic.

Infographic Act Right Now

“We are thrilled that most of their feeding and calving habitats are finally being recognized as critical habitat. However, the notable absence of protections for the migratory corridor that connects these two habitats remains a concern,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Executive Director. “We should be safe when we commute between work and home, and right whales should be safe during their commute between their feeding and calving grounds.”Map showing 1994 North Atlantic right whale critical habitat vs. 2016 expanded critical habitat