NOAA officials today issued a final rule continuing protections to reduce lethal vessel collisions with the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The ship strike reduction rule, first
implemented in 2008, requires large ships to travel at speeds of 10
knots or less seasonally, in areas where right whales feed and
reproduce, as well as along migratory routes in-between. Thanks to
cooperation and partnership with the shipping and transportation
industry, indications are that the rule is working as intended.
the ship speed restrictions went into effect, no known fatal ship
strikes of North Atlantic right whales have occurred in the management
zones," said Mark Schaefer, deputy NOAA administrator and assistant
secretary of commerce for conservation and management. “This rule is
working. Before this rule went into effect, 13 right whales died as a
result of being hit by vessels in the same areas during an 18-year study
With only about 425 North Atlantic right whales in
existence, these whales are among the most endangered in the world. The
top threats to the species are ship strikes and entanglements in fishing
Right whales are highly vulnerable to ship collisions,
because their migration route crosses major East Coast shipping lanes.
Measures taken by NOAA to prevent entanglement of right whales in
fishing gear coupled with NOAA and the International Maritime
Organization’s ship strike reduction efforts provide one of the most
comprehensive approaches ever taken by NOAA to help large whales
The rule requires vessels that are 65 feet and greater in
length to travel at 10 knots or less during the seasons right whales
are expected to be present in designated areas along the East Coast.
the mid-Atlantic area, the 10-knot speed restrictions extend out to 20
nautical miles around major ports. NOAA Fisheries researchers report
that approximately 80 percent of right whale sightings in the
mid-Atlantic are within 20 nautical miles of shore. NOAA also
established a program for temporary voluntary speed limits in other
areas when an aggregation of three or more right whales is confirmed.
The rule allows vessels to exceed the limit if needed to ensure vessel safety.
rule is part of NOAA’s broader ship strike reduction efforts. Existing
protective actions include surveying whale aggregation areas by
aircraft, extensive mariner outreach programs and mandatory ship
reporting systems that provide advisories and information on right whale
locations to mariners.
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