NOAA Fisheries seeks to expand critical habitat of killer whales

WEST COAST—A federal proposal could extend the critical habitat of killer whales to as far south as the Central California Coast, according to a report published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries. NOAA is seeking public input on the proposal.

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales could have a habitat extending from the northwestern-most tip of Washington State to California’s Monterey Bay region.

NOAA Fisheries proposed to establish the Southern Resident killer whale habitat from Cape Flattery, Washington to Point Sur, California.

Point Sur is located just south of Monterey Bay and the coastal city of Santa Cruz.

“The proposal would extend critical habitat for the whales along a roughly 1,000-mile swath of West Coast waters between the depths of 6.1 meters (20 feet) and 200 meters (about 650 feet),” NOAA Fisheries staff said in a published report. “The additional area covers roughly 15,626 square miles, or more than 10 million acres.”

Extending the critical habitat to include the Central California Coast means the protected area would maintain certain physical and biological features.

The Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat includes the following physical and biological characteristics:

  • Water quality supporting growth and development of the endangered whales
  • Prey species to support development, growth and reproduction
  • Passage conditions to allow forage, migration and rest.

NOAA Fisheries designated a portion of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea as a critical habitat in 2006. The whales had spent much of the year in this area, when Puget Sound was designated as a critical habitat.

“Satellite tracking, acoustic monitoring and sightings data [since 2006] have confirmed that two of the three Southern Resident pods regularly range south along the West Coast as far as the Central California Coast during winter,” NOAA Fisheries staff stated in its report. “The third pod, J Pod, typically remains further north, either in inland waters or off the west side of Vancouver Island [in Canada].

“The critical habitat proposal includes six sections of coast, each with different habitat features,” NOAA Fisheries staff continued.

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