Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

NOAA proposes humpback whale habitat protections

The proposed critical habitats will not affect fishing or recreational boating

NOAA’s fisheries division, the National Marine Fisheries Service, has proposed creating a number of critical habitat sites ranging from the Channel Islands in southern California to the Bering Sea, including the waters off Juneau.

The critical habitats, created with the aim of protecting the feeding areas of three separate groups of humpback whales, or Megaptera novaeangliae, will not affect anything except for federal agencies seeking to use those waters for other purposes, said Lisa Manning, an official with NOAA. Her presentation to the public on the proposed habitats was held at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday evening, and was attended by more than 30 people.

“A critical habitat does not establish a sanctuary or preserve. It does not affect recreational activities. It does not affect private lands,” Manning said. “It only affects federal activities.”

The proposed habitats, which cover 175,182 square nautical miles in total, are the traditional feeding areas of three of the 14 major humpback whale distinct population segments (DPS), Manning said. The three groups that come to Alaska and California to summer and feed spend the rest of their time west of Mexico, west of Central America and east of Taiwan respectively. These three groups are currently threatened, and protecting their feeding areas may help them to regain their footing, Manning said. Some of these groups may number 2,000 whales or less.

[Four whales struck by vessels this year in Southeast]

“While we’ve seen some success with our other DPS but we don’t want these ones to get forgotten,” said Molly Zaleski, a marine scientist with ocean advocacy group Oceana during the public comment period.

Whales migrate north to feed on euphausiids and small fish to support population growth, Manning said during the presentation. The idea of the critical habitat designation is to limit the effects of climate change, direct harvest of prey in commercial fisheries, ocean noise, and pollution created by federal agencies or federal actions.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Several sections of the proposed critical habits were excluded, including the region outside Anchorage, the ocean off of Los Angeles, the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility near Ketchikan and the Quinault Range Site in Washington. The two Navy sites will continue on as usual, Manning said.

“It makes sense ecologically and it makes sense economically,” Zaleski said during the public comment time, referring to the amount of carbon each whale ties up and their place in the food web, as well as the tourism whales generate through whale-watching tours. “Each large whale is worth about 2 million dollars to us. They have a lot of value to us.”

Not everyone agreed. Doug Vincent-Lang, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, also gave public comment.

[7 dead whales reported on Kodiak Island in 2018]

“We’re disappointed the NMFS didn’t consult with Alaska (Department of) Fish and Game,” Vincent-Lang said. “These are large documents, and we’ve identified multiple fundamental flaws with your proposal that will take significant time to resolve.”

Vincent-Lang said that policies in Alaska had been successful in helping humpback populations in the region to rebound from the edge, and expressed doubts that the designated critical habits would have much positive effect.

“Portions of these areas are not even known humpback feeding grounds,” Vincent-Lang said. “We requested but were denied the opportunity to review the document.”

Make your voice heard

To look at the rule or comment for the file, check out the regulation here.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


Marine scientist Molly Zaleski gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Marine scientist Molly Zaleski gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Marine scientist Molly Zaleski gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Marine scientist Molly Zaleski gives public comment during a hearing held by NOAA on proposed whale habitats being created in the coastal waters of the West Coast at University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

More in News

Alaska Department of Fish and Game logo. (Graphic by Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Board of Fisheries approves Kenai River king salmon action plan

The plan adds bait restrictions for in-river fisheries, doubles the sport bag limit for sockeye salmon, and adds a swath of restrictions to the commercial setnet fishery

The Kenai Municipal Airport is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
New Grant Aviation planes to double service’s flight capacity

The first of two Cessna 208B EX Grand Caravans will start transporting passengers on Monday

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Most Read