North Atlantic right whale - habitat protection

The US Endangered Species Act provides a mechanism to designate “Critical Habitat” for listed species. These areas are considered essential to the conservation of a species. In 1994, three specific areas were designated as Critical Habitat for North Atlantic right whales.

Two of these areas were in the Northeast where the whales feed and one off the coast of Florida and Georgia, the only known breeding area for the species.  Research since 1994 has shown that NA right whales are utilizing additional habitats that are equally important to their survival. At the same time, these habitats are being threatened by acoustic and chemical pollution as a result of proposals to develop energy and military training facilities. 

The Solution

Although the Endangered Species Act mandates federal habitat protections for listed species, currently designated Critical Habitat for North Atlantic right whales covers only 8.5% of their known U.S. range. In 2009, WDC, in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife, petitioned the US government to increase federally designated Critical Habitat for the species by more than 47,000 square nautical miles.  In 2010, WDC and its partners filed a complaint against the NMFS for not responding to the petition, to which NMFS replied that the petition had merit and a proposal to increase Critical Habitat would be issued by 2011.  However, because the NMFS has yet to take action, WDC and its partners filed a complaint on April 10, 2014 for unlawful and unreasonable delay.