Over the past 35 years, the population of right whales in the North Atlantic Ocean has not expanded nearly as much as scientific understanding of the endangered species.

In February, acting on data compiled in recent decades, federal regulators will greatly expand the marine mammals’ designated critical habitat areas off southern and northern portions of the East Coast in the hope the whales’ population numbers might follow suit.

Only 500 or so right whales are estimated to exist in the North Atlantic, up from an estimate of 300 in the mid-1990s, according to federal officials.

In New England, the expanded critical habitat area will include all American waters in the Gulf of Maine. Previously, the right whales’ designated critical habitat in the region included only Cape Cod Bay and a larger area just north of the Great South Channel between Cape Cod and Georges Bank.

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