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caption: A humpback whale going for a deep dive
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A humpback whale going for a deep dive

Whale sanctuary area proposed for humpbacks

There's another whale of concern in West Coast waters: the humpback whale.

Federal ocean officials are now proposing critical habitat for three populations of humpbacks to make the Washington waters they visit safer and quieter.

People can spot the big, black-striped humpbacks migrating along the West Coast during the summer. Humpback whales travel great distances during their seasonal migration, according to NOAA, with some animals migrating 5,000 miles between summer feeding grounds in high latitudes and winter mating grounds in tropical waters.

But NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says some are in trouble. Four of 14 worldwide humpback populations are listed as federally threatened or endangered, primarily due to boat collisions, fishing gear and some regional issues like whaling.

Three of the troubled populations visit West Coast waters.

"There are different populations of humpback whales and indeed some of those are threatened and endangered," NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein said. "Here we're taking about three particular populations of humpbacks."

That includes one that visits Washington waters from Central America, one from Mexico, and a Hawaiian population that spends summers near Alaska and British Columbia.

NOAA will hold five public hearings on whether to add nearly 80,000 nautical square miles of protected habitat for humpbacks. That range would span from Alaska to California, and overlap with proposed critical habitat for killer whales.

The Endangered Species Act defines critical habitat as "the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species... on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protections."

One public hearing is in Seattle on November 6.