The federal government has proposed a rule to help address longstanding threats to North Atlantic right whales, including death and serious injury from ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a proposed rule to revise and increase habitat designations for the critically endangered right whale to 39,655 square miles from 4,000 square miles. The rule comes in response to a September 2009 petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The groups’ 2009 petition sought to expand critical habitat protections to all of the whales’ nursery, breeding and feeding grounds along the east coast and would increase the whales’ protected area tenfold.

Sharon Young, field director of marine wildlife protection for the HSUS said: “We applaud the Fisheries Service for issuing this proposed rule. The new boundaries that are proposed reflect the best science identifying areas that most need protection from human activities that threaten the whales including offshore energy development, ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear.”

The Fisheries Service’s proposed rule would protect crucial areas of the species’ calving grounds from southern North Carolina through Florida, as well as critical feeding habitat off the northeast coast.  However, the proposed rule entirely ignores the species’ migratory routes throughout the mid-Atlantic. Only about 450 of the critically endangered whales exist today, and without additional protections the species faces a serious risk of extinction.

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