Highly endangered North Atlantic right whales, which give birth in the waters off Georgia and Florida, got a boost Friday from a settlement agreement that requires NOAA Fisheries to expand their protected habitat by February 2016.
Only about 400 of these right whales remain. Around this time each year the females migrate from feeding grounds off New England to their nursery areas in Southeastern waters. But only a small portion of this range, including an area off the Florida-Georgia border, is protected as federally designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.
Last spring, the four groups — Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation — filed suit in federal court in Boston to force action. The settlement agreement, filed on Friday, sets the 2016 deadline for the Service to act, though it doesn’t prescribe the critical habitat needed.