Endangered Whales Threatened by Fishing Gear, Ship Strikes, Oil Spills

SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government proposed a new rule today to designate 302,961 square nautical miles in the Pacific Ocean as critical habitat for three populations of endangered humpback whales. The move could help protect migrating whales from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, and oil spills.

The announcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service follows a court-approved agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Wishtoyo Foundation to issue new protections. The groups had sued the Trump administration for failing to protect two Pacific Ocean humpback populations listed as endangered and a third as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Pacific humpback whales will be safer in their ocean home with these protections,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney. “Humpbacks delight whale watchers with their antics, but these playful animals are highly vulnerable to human activities in coastal waters. Identifying their critical habitat is an important way to protect them from speeding ships, oil spills and fishing gear.”

One population of endangered humpback whales that feeds off California’s coast contains fewer than 800 individuals, meaning that deaths or injuries from entanglement could hurt their recovery. At least 54 humpback whales were found tangled up in fishing gear off the West Coast in 2016. Entanglements cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into animals’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning.

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