Critical Habitat for the Southern Resident Killer Whale
We, the NOAA Fisheries, announce a 12-month finding on a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to revise the critical habitat designation for the Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In November 2006 we issued a final rule designating approximately 2,560 square miles (6,630 square km) of inland waters of Washington State as critical habitat for the Southern Resident killer whale DPS. The January 2014 petition requests we revise this critical habitat to include Pacific Ocean marine waters along the West Coast of the United States that constitute essential foraging and wintering areas for Southern Resident killer whales. Additionally, the petition requests that we adopt as a primary constituent element (PCE), for both currently designated critical habitat and the proposed revised critical habitat, protective in-water sound levels. The ESA defines a process for responding to petitions to revise critical habitat. We have reviewed the public comments and best available information on Southern Resident killer whale habitat use and as the next step in the response to the petition process defined in the ESA, this 12-month determination describes how we intend to proceed with the requested revision.