Why Make the Ship Strike Rule Permanent? Because It’s Working.

Written by on July 22, 2013 in Editor's Choice, Policy & Ocean Law, Whales & Dolphins
Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) skim feeding with NOAA ship Delaware II in the background.

Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) skim feeding with NOAA ship Delaware II in the background. Photo credit: NOAA/NEFSC.

In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put a new rule in place to help reduce North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) ship strike deaths.

Severely depleted by commercial whaling, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered species in the world. There are only approximately 450 individuals in the Northwest Atlantic population and they continue to face threats from fishing gear and ship strikes — 72 percent of their known mortality comes from vessel strikes.

The 2008 Ship Strike Rule protects right whales by requiring all ships greater than 65 feet (20m) to reduce their speed to 10 knots in areas where the whales are known to be. The time periods and locations of the slower speed areas (Seasonal Management Areas) vary as the whales move along the east coast of the United States throughout the year.

The Ship Strike Rule is set to expire later this year as the five-year trial comes to an end. The trial period was designed test the effectiveness of the rule in protecting right whales from Maine to Florida. No whale ship strike deaths have been recorded in the Seasonal Management Areas since the rule went into effect, showing that it is indeed very effective. Models indicate that the rule has reduced the probability of a fatal ship strike by 80 to 90 percent.

In addition to successfully protecting whales, NOAA found that the restrictions cost the shipping industry only about one-third of original projections. Now, NOAA is deciding whether or not to make the Ship Strike Rule permanent.

“Reducing ship speeds in areas where there are endangered right whales works,” said NOAA Fisheries’ acting administrator Sam Rauch. “It is a proven method to reduce deaths and serious injury to these incredible creatures. Making these protections permanent will make U.S. East Coast waters safer for right whales, and will allow them to reach full maturity, which is critical to their long-term survival.”

Early last month, NOAA opened a 60-day comment period for the proposal to make the Ship Strike Rule permanent. If you’re interested, you can submit your comment through regulations.gov by clicking here. The comment period runs through August 6, 2013.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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