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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feds Enforce Right Whale Wrongs

The Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule became the law on December, 2008 and during the rules first season only letters of notice were given to violators.  This ship strike rule applies to vessels of 65 feet and greater and restricts their speed to a maximum of 10 knots in these special zones.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that notices of violation were issued to seven vessels that violated the rule in the 2009-20010 season. The penalties for this violation range from $16,500 to $49,500.  The special speed limit is only in effect from November 1st to April 30th, times when the slow moving, surface dwelling Northern Right Whales are most likely to be present.

There are only about 300 to 400 Northern Right Whales left in the world.  Because of this they are given protection under the endangered species act and are also given special rights of way by the enactment of vessel speed limits in certain waters from Rhode Island to Georgia.

Right Whales are huge, baleen whales using their baleen "strainers" to feed on zooplankton as they swim.  They can weigh up to 70 tons and reach lengths of 55 feet.  Calves are 14 to 15 feet when they're born after a year long gestation period by the female.  Since females not becoming sexually mature until ten years of age the population of these whales is very slow growing.  Studies show that the whales numbers have only been holding steady for the last several decades.

Collisions with ships are the whales greatest threat.  Besides speed restrictions several other steps have also been taken by the government to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes such as; changes to the Traffic Separation Scheme servicing Boston, MA, Mandatory Ship Reporting systems that provide right whale sighting information to mariners, speed advisories of 10 knots to vessels in locations where right whales are seen, and recommending shipping routes in critical calving areas off  the Florida and Georgia coasts and Cape Cod Bay where whales tend to aggregate.

These seasonal regulations are set to expire on December 6, 2013 at which time NOAA will make a determination as to the laws effectiveness in protecting the Right Whale and increasing its population.