Changes in Shipping Lanes to Reduce Whale Ship Strikes by 74 Percent

Written by on June 25, 2009 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law
North Atlantic right whale mother and calf

North Atlantic right whale mother and calf

In a press release from NOAA Fisheries Service on May 26, NOAA announced that after years of study, changes will be made in shipping lanes into Boston in order to prevent collisions between large ships and whales.

The changes, implemented on June 1, asked ships 300 gross tons and above to avoid a specific area in the Great South Channel from April through July, when the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale faces the greatest risk of collision with ships.

Ships coming from the south and entering Boston Harbor in shipping lanes will also have a modified path.  The north-south traffic lanes have narrowed from 4 miles across to only 3.  The width of the east-west path was narrowed in 2007.

The North Atlantic right whale is so vulnerable to ship collisions because their primary feeding and migration areas overlap with the major East Coast shipping lanes.  The changes are predicted to reduce the relative risk of right whale ship strikes by 74 percent from April through July.

During the spring, more than half the world’s North Atlantic right whales are known to be in the Boston shipping lanes area throughout the spring and approximately 3,500 ships travel through the entire Boston shipping lanes area every year.

“Through years of study we have determined that these changes will likely provide a safer environment for whales and mariners, and at the same time, provide the least amount of disruption and impact to the economy,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA’s acting assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.  “NOAA and our partners are working extremely hard to do all we can to help save this critically endangered species, while helping mariners stay safe and productive.”

Working with the Coast Guard, which assessed safety and navigational effects on the shipping industry, NOAA researchers used more than 20 years of sighting data to determine the risk of whale strikes in and around the Boston area to help develop effective changes.  NOAA proposed the changes to the International Maritime Organization in March 2008.

The changes were accepted and will be reflected on all charts and used by the international shipping industry.  NOAA’s Fisheries Service is working with NOAA’s Ocean Service and the U.S. Coast Guard to add the changes to nautical charts and the U.S Coast Pilot.

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of 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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