Northern right whales comments extended
A federal agency is allowing more time for the public to weigh in on a proposal to provide critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale, considered the rarest large whale in the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reopened the public comment period through March 9. A public meeting will be held in Anchorage that same day.
The federal government is proposing that the Bering Sea outside Bristol Bay and part of the Gulf of Alaska southeast of Kodiak become critical habitat for the northern right whale.
Whales studied outside Bristol Bay
Right whales were considered virtually extinct until the 1990s, when biologists confirmed that a few animals were returning to the same areas just outside Bristol Bay every summer.
Since then, biologists have deployed listening phones and boat surveys to find groups of the whales, raising hope that people can help keep the species from extinction.
If the designation becomes official after public comment, the 36,750 square miles of marine habitat would get special scrutiny. Any new activity overseen by federal regulations such as new commercial fishing, changes in shipping, spill plans or oil and gas exploration would be analyzed for its effect on the whales.
In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity sued to force the agency to identify critical habitat, a step required under the Endangered Species Act.
—The Associated Press