Critical Habitat for the Southern Resident Killer Whale
We, NOAA Fisheries, have revised the critical habitat designation for the Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca) distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by expanding it to include habitat along the U.S. West Coast, while maintaining the whales' currently designated critical habitat in inland waters of Washington. This revision is based on over a decade of research that improved our knowledge of Southern Resident killer whales’ geographic range, diet, and habitat needs, including their movements up and down the West Coast. Newly designated critical habitat along the U.S. West Coast includes approximately 15,910 square miles of marine waters between the 6.1-meter and 200-meter depth contours off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California from the U.S. international border with Canada south to Point Sur, California.
We considered and incorporated input on our September 2019 proposed rule from the public provided during a 90-day comment period and at public hearings, as well as input from our state, federal, and tribal partners regarding how the proposed designations may affect their activities.
In response to public comments received and additional information from the Navy regarding planned activities in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), we are maintaining the exclusion of the Quinault Range Site (QRS) site, but have modified exclusion of the buffer area. The final rule reduces the extent of the 10-km buffer being excluded, where the QRS overlaps with the OCNMS