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Federal habitats to help protect humpback whales could be extended to Alaska

  • Author: Associated Press
  • Updated: November 12, 2019
  • Published November 12, 2019

A group of humpback whales bubble feed in Frederick Sound off of Kupreanof Island north of Petersburg, AK on Saturday, July 21, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

JUNEAU - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed creating critical habitat sites to protect humpback whales that will extend to waters off Alaska, officials said.

The habitats are focused on the feeding areas of groups of humpback whales and include the area off Juneau, The Juneau Empire reported Sunday.

A critical habitat does not establish a sanctuary or preserve, said Lisa Manning, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the fisheries service. Manning conducted a public presentation about critical habitats at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau last week.

"It does not affect recreational activities. It does not affect private lands," Manning said. "It only affects federal activities."

The proposed habitats cover 175,182 square nautical miles of the traditional feeding areas of three of the 14 major humpback whale distinct population segments, Manning said.

The whale groups feed on euphausiids and small fish in Alaska and California waters in the summer and spend the other months near Mexico, Central America and Taiwan, she said.

Critical habitat designation limits the effects of climate change, direct harvest of prey in commercial fisheries, ocean noise, and pollution created by federal agencies or federal actions, Manning said.

The three groups in Alaska waters are threatened, with some numbering 2,000 whales or less. Protecting their feeding areas may help them regain their footing, Manning said.

Doug Vincent-Lang, Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, expressed doubts that the designated critical habitats would have much of a positive effect. Alaska policies have already helped reinvigorate humpback populations in the region, he said.

“Portions of these areas are not even known humpback feeding grounds,” Vincent-Lang said.