North Pacific right whale – critical habitat may be encroached by future oil drilling in Bristol Bay.

Ralph Gibbs of the Kodiak Daily Mirror carried an disturbing story on the designation of critical habitat for the endangered North Pacific right Whale.

“On Tuesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service published a new federal rule that will take effect May 8, designating critical habitat for endangered North Pacific right whale off the shores of Kodiak and in Bristol Bay. On the same day the NMFS rule was announced, the Minerals Management Service issued a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for possible future oil drilling in Bristol Bay, an area that includes a portion of the North Pacific right whale critical habitat.”

While the area had been protected from drilling since 1998 the Bush government had this ban lifted last year and leasing of exploration contracts could begin as early as 2011. Once again the Bush administration’s lack of regard for endangered species in the face of oil exploration is evident. When it comes to self interest, the possibility of $150 billion in today’s value of the energy resources present place the fate of the North Pacific right whale as insignificant by comparison.

The critical habitat designation to include the defined area of the Bering Sea now will require the NMFS to consider whether human activities will destroy or adversely modify the proposed habitat. The destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat is defined as “a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species.” These federal actions, if the oil leases go ahead, will impede Northern right whale recovery and in addition may affect the continued survival of the North Pacific right whale.

The article also quotes Braddon Cummings, Oceans Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity as saying that” in addition to being the home of the endangered North Pacific right whale, the North Aleutian Basin is an important habitat for the Pacific walrus, ribbon seals, humpback whales and numerous species of seabirds and it also supports some of the largest commercial salmon fisheries in the world.”

Exploration activities could lead to catastrophic events in the life history of the right whale: as a surface feeding species, an oil spill could doom the already rare species to extinction. In addition to this danger the disturbances posed by the noise created by exploration activities could impact the survival of this species.

The recent increased sightings of this species in the Bering Sea had increased hopes for a recovery in numbers and this had been heightened with the establishment of the designation of the critical habitat area. If the leases go ahead the prospects for the whale’s recovery seem bleak. The last word goes to Cummings and sums up the sentiments of all those who value these endangered species against the greed of those who would exploit even the areas designated for their continued existence:

“Drilling in Bristol Bay would be drilling through the heart of the most important habitat of the most endangered whale on the planet,” Cummings said. “If the North Pacific right whale is to have any chance of survival, we must protect its critical habitat, not auction it off to oil companies.”


~ by abstraktbiblos on Monday, 14 April, 2008.

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