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Critical Habitat for North Pacific Right Whales


Critical Habitat for North Pacific Right Whales
Endangered Species Act
Action Status
Final Rule
Affected Species


We, NOAA Fisheries, designate critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale in this rulemaking. The North Pacific right whale was recently listed as a separate, endangered species, and because this was a newly listed entity, we were required to designate critical habitat for it.


In 2000, NOAA Fisheries received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to revise the critical habitat designation for the northern right whale by designating a new area within the eastern Bering Sea as critical habitat for right whales in the North Pacific. NOAA  Fisheries determined in 2002 that the petition was not warranted at that time because the essential biological requirements of the population in the North Pacific Ocean were not sufficiently understood. In 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity notified us of their intent to sue for failing to designate critical habitat. 

By ruling dated June 14, 2005, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ordered (PDF, 11 pages) NOAA Fisheries to publish a conclusive determination by October 28, 2005 by either proposing designation of an area in the North Pacific ocean as critical habitat for right whales or by explaining why such designation should not occur due to more paramount statutory considerations.

On January 26, 2006, NOAA Fisheries made a positive initial finding on the Center for Biological Diversity's petition, finding that it "presents substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted." Under the Endangered Species Act, once a positive initial finding on a petition is made, NOAA Fisheries has one year from the date it received the petition to either issue a proposed rule-listing the species or find that such listing is "not warranted." NOAA Fisheries never released the 12-month finding, and it was due no later than August 19, 2006.

On October 6, 2006 the Center for Biological Diversity sent NOAA Fisheries a 60-day notice of intent to sue as required by the ESA, putting the agency on notice that they would file litigation (PDF, 14 pages) if the finding was not timely issued. In the litigation, the Center for Biological Diversity requested that NOAA Fisheries make the overdue 12-month finding on the petition. 

In April 2008, after the North Pacific right whale was listed as a separate, endangered species (distinct from the North Atlantic right whale), NOAA Fisheries designated critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale within the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

Supporting Information

The following materials present observations of North Pacific right whales in U.S. waters from 1940 to 2005 and for the broader timeframes of the 1800s, the 1900s and the late 20th century. The information in these materials is one of the bases for evaluating designation of critical habitat and shows the locations of harvested whales, as well as recent sightings and acoustic recordings of north pacific right whales.

Last updated by Alaska Regional Office on 10/31/2019

Critical Habitat