Hawaii & Alaska
Marine scientist Molly Zaleski gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

NOAA proposes humpback whale habitat protections

The proposed critical habitats will not affect fishing or recreational boating

NOAA’s fisheries division, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has proposed creating a number of critical habitat sites ranging from the Channel Islands in southern California to the Bering Sea, including the waters off Juneau.

The critical habitats, created with the aim of protecting the feeding areas of three separate groups of humpback whales, or Megaptera novaeangliae, will not affect anything except for federal agencies seeking to use those waters for other purposes, said Lisa Manning, an official with NOAA. Her presentation to the public on the proposed habitats was held at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday evening, and was attended by more than 30 people.

“A critical habitat does not establish a sanctuary or preserve. It does not affect recreational activities. It does not affect private lands,” Manning said. “It only affects federal activities.”

The proposed habitats, which cover 175,182 square nautical miles in total, are the traditional feeding areas of three of the 14 major humpback whale distinct population segments (DPS), Manning said. The three groups that come to Alaska and California to summer and feed spend the rest of their time west of Mexico, west of Central America and east of Taiwan respectively. These three groups are currently threatened, and protecting their feeding areas may help them to regain their footing, Manning said. Some of these groups may number 2,000 whales or less.

[Four whales struck by vessels this year in Southeast]

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