The Humane Society of the United States commends the U.S. Coast Guard for launching “Operation Right Speed”– a program that reminds large vessels traveling through North Atlantic right whale migratory routes and calving grounds to slow down to prevent deadly ship strikes.
The slower speeds are required by a rule enacted by the National Marine Fisheries Service mandating that vessels 65 feet or greater in length slow to at least 10 knots in certain areas at certain times of year to avoid collisions that kill the endangered whales. The speed limit applies in areas along the Mid-Atlantic coast from Nov. 1 to April 30 and in whales’ southeastern nursery area starting Nov. 15.
The ship speed rule is set to expire in December 2013. Earlier this year, The HSUS and other animal protection organizations petitioned the federal agency to extend the rule and to expand the areas and times when ship speed limits apply.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service enacted the ship speed rule because right whales were literally being run into the ground by the commercial shipping industry. The agency should extend this important rule,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director with The HSUS. “The Coast Guard’s efforts to educate mariners about the rule are an important step toward ensuring compliance and moving this critically endangered species out of the emergency room and onto the path to recovery.”
Despite the fact that North Atlantic right whales have been listed under the Endangered Species Act for more than three decades, ship strikes remain one of the top threats to the animals’ survival. Only around 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, making these whales among the rarest in the world. With one or two whales killed or seriously injured each year by ship strikes, and likely more deaths and injuries that go unreported, their future is in jeopardy. Coastal feeding, breeding and nursing grounds coincide with some of the busiest shipping areas in the United States.
NMFS’s own review of the ship speed rule found that the agency should extend it and that the rule also should be amended to better protect this highly endangered species. In addition to protecting right whales, slowing ships will reduce the impact of vessel collisions with other protected species, including humpback, fin and minke whales. Slower ships also produce less noise and air pollution.
Background on Right Whales:
- The North Atlantic right whale was decimated by commercial whaling in past centuries, and despite being protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1970, has not recovered.
- The whales, reaching 55 feet in length, migrate from their calving grounds off the southeastern United States to their feeding grounds off the northeastern United States and Canada.
- Adult female right whales reproduce slowly, giving birth to one calf every four years and not reaching reproductive maturity until age 8.
- Primary threats to imperiled right whales are ship strikes, entanglement in commercial fishing gear, habitat degradation, rising noise levels, global warming, ocean acidification and pollution.
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