The state of Alaska is asking the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the humpback whales that swim between Alaska and Hawaii, spending months each year off Alaska's Arctic Coast, a prospective oil-rich region.
The state on Wednesday filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to "delist" whales that feed in Alaska in the summer and breed in Hawaii in winter. The state wants those humpbacks defined as a distinct, central North Pacific population, which could lead to removal of protection for them even if other humpback populations remain officially endangered.
The larger population of whales throughout the North Pacific had dwindled to fewer than 1,400 in 1966, when the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling. The animals have rebounded since being listed as endangered in 1970.
Scientists estimate there are about 20,000 of the whales in the North Pacific today.