Let’s get right whale critical habitat out of 1994

North Atlantic right whale critical habitat boundaries have not been revised since they were first established.  In 1994 computers resembled large gray boxes, Encyclopedias were our Google, cell phones weren’t all that “smart”, and North Atlantic right whale critical habitat was designated along the U.S. East Coast. 

In the past 21 years humans have learned a lot and as evident by the sleek computer staring back at me, our world generally reflects that enhanced knowledge.  However, North Atlantic right whale critical habitat boundaries have not been revised since they were first established.

That’s right, their critical habitat is still stuck in 1994, and it’s time for that to change.

My fellow whale enthusiasts and I were thrilled to learn that the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing to significantly expand North Atlantic right whale critical habitat to reflect our modern understanding of their seasonal habitat use.

Right whales desperately need this proposal to be implemented.

Currently these gentle giants have a teetering population of about 500. Yup, seriously, just 500…and that’s an improvement! 

That means I have more friends on Facebook, more emails in my inbox, more pictures on my cell phone, and more words in this blog than there are North Atlantic right whales in the ocean!

That is extremely concerning.  If we want to see that number climb, these endangered right whales need to be adequately protected through the expansion of their critical habitat and by increasing right whale protection measures.

The concept of right whale conservation and population growth is similar to growing grass; an extremely unusual comparison with vast discrepancies in difficulty but just hear me out.

When someone is trying to grow grass they put up signs, rope off the area, and do whatever else they can to ensure people don’t stomp all over their seeds.  The seeded areas with the least disturbance will grow grass the most effectively and produce those luscious green lawns capable of making a Stepford wife swoon, while the disturbed areas will result in an awkward, sparse covering resembling that of an overused soccer field. 

The notion is the same for right whales – fewer disturbances lead to more successful growth.  If we “rope off” or designate sufficient boundaries around the areas essential to right whales’ long-term survival it will make it more difficult for detrimental human activities to “stomp on”, or take place in, their crucial habitat, helping conserve right whales and contribute to their population’s revitalization. 

If this endangered species’ critical habitat is not expanded, can we really expect to see any significant population growth during a time of increasing threats?  No, we can’t, but we could see a decline.

So, if we can overlook the fact that I just compared right whales to grass, we are left with the idea that if we want to see something grow, we need to protect it and limit disturbances to the best of our abilities; and in the case of the North Atlantic right whale, that means implementing this proposal and helping combat against the numerous threats they face, such as ship strikes, entanglement, and ocean noise pollution from activities like oil and gas development.

This is a defining moment for the North Atlantic right whale population, and we have the power to dictate whether it is positive or negative.  Let’s get right whale critical habitat out of 1994 and take a positive step forward for right whale conservation by expanding their critical habitat.


Tell the NMFS that you support critical habitat expansion and increased protection measures for North Atlantic right whales.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation