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:
- Read the post from NOAA: NOAA proposal extends rule reducing risk of whale ship strikes along U.S. East Coast
- Check out this post from the New Bedford Whaling Museum Blog: Protection for Endangered N.Atl. Right Whales May Become Permanent
- Find out why scientists worry that ship traffic could be deadly for thriving whales in B.C.
- Watch the campaign video commissioned by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) on the effectiveness of the Ship Strike Rule (click here to see the full length version):
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.