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Protections sought for world’s most endangered whale

Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 10:42 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A formal petition has been filed by conservationists to expand federal protection for North Pacific right whales. With only 30 individuals left, this makes the right whale the most endangered whale in existence.

Advocates say the petition, which calls to protect the whale’s migratory areas, will give them a fighting chance for survival.

Threats to the species continue to grow as shipping traffic skyrockets through Alaska, which is only expected to continue. In a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, the group says that surging trans-Arctic shipping traffic is one of the many threats to right whale habitat, including climate change and melting sea ice that is expected to open shipping routes and increase the risk of vessel strikes.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in the press release that the right whale is more threatened by climate change than any other marine animal, according to a 2020 study, and that the right whale “is at extreme risk of imminent extinction.”

The proposed expansion would add a key migratory point through Unimak Pass to allow whales to travel safely. Cynthia Elkins, a senior researcher with the center, states that scientists are just now beginning to learn about these creatures and protecting them will require “all hands on deck.”

“If we don’t want to lose these magnificent whales in our lifetimes, we have to safeguard all the habitat that’s critical to their survival,” Elkins said. “Only a fraction of this important area is protected now, so federal action is a crucial step toward saving these imperiled animals.”

From the time the petition was submitted last Thursday, the National Marine Fisheries Service has 90 days to make a decision to see if expansion is warranted. If, at that point, they decide it is warranted, they will have 12 months to implement any changes.

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