Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales received some good news this week. The federal government has formally identified their critical habitat under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in their two main Atlantic Canadian feeding grounds, and now they must protect it. These areas, the Grand Manan Basin located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, and the Roseway Basin located off the southeastern tip of Nova Scotia, are home to an abundance of copepods, which are the whales’ main food source.
These areas will offer much needed protection for an endangered species that is down to around 400 individuals. The whale was hunted to critically low numbers in the past, and its recovery is now hampered by the threat of strikes from ships and entanglement in fishing gear. The whales are slowly recovering, with 39 calves born this winter in their wintering grounds off the coast of Florida. Protection of their Canadian feeding areas as critical habitat will help to ensure that the species continues on the path towards recovery.
This is also a good news story for the implementation of the Species at Risk Act. All too often, recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species are finalized without the identification of areas of critical habitat for the species, even when there is much available science that can be used to identify those areas. In this case, when the draft recovery strategy for North Atlantic Right Whale was published with only one critical habitat area proposed, scientists and environmentalists told the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that enough is known about the Roseway and Grand Manan Basins to declare them both critical habitat areas for the species.
DFO agreed and did the right thing to protect the Right Whale. I hope this is the beginning of a positive trend from the federal government for the protection of our species at risk.
The final recovery strategy for North Atlantic Right Whale is available here; news articles on the critical habitat designation are here and here.
photo: Handout, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration