NOAA to update recovery plans for 2 whale species

Compromise proposal may shift rights, blues off endangered lists.

Associated PressApril 17, 2012 

A federal agency will develop recovery plans for two endangered whales.

A notice Tuesday in the Federal Register said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will prepare a recovery plan for North Pacific right whales and update a recovery plan for blue whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity last month gave 60-day notice that it intended to sue over NOAA Fisheries Service's failure to update its recovery plan for right whales. Alaska office director Rebecca Noblin said the Fisheries Service is throwing the whales a lifeline.

"It's great when you can avoid litigation," she said. "This is the best possible outcome."

The center's analysis of endangered species indicates that they are twice as likely to be moved off the list with a recovery plan in place, she said.

Just 25 to 30 North Pacific right whales are believed to remain in the eastern stock of the population. The whales during summer feeding months have been spotted in the Gulf of Alaska or the Bering Sea.

There may be a couple hundred more in the western population that spend summers in Russia's Okhotsk Sea, Noblin said, but North Pacific right whales might be the most endangered whale species in the world.

Scientists believe there were as many as 20,000 right whales in the early 1800s, but whalers found them to be desirable prey because they were big, slow, and buoyant after they were killed. Adults are 45 to 55 feet.

Blue whales are the largest animal in the world, according to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center website. They can grow to 100 feet with a heart about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Newborns start out at about 23 feet.

Blue whales are found in every ocean. There are 400 to 1,400 in the Southern Hemisphere, at least 3,300 in the North Pacific and 100 to 555 in the North Atlantic, according to the agency.

A recovery plan could include speed limits on ships in certain areas, Noblin said. Five blue whales died from ship strikes off southern California in 2007, she said.

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