A new report says the lives of endangered North Atlantic right whales are being put at risk by ships speeding in designated “slow zones.”
There are only about 340 of this species left, and collisions with boats are a major cause of injury and death, as the whales often swim close to the surface and are difficult to spot due to their dark coloration.
In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced speed rules to protect whales, requiring all vessels over 65 feet to travel at 10 knots or less in certain areas along the U.S. East Coast called seasonal management zones. Issued.
But a report by conservation group Oceana says vessels ranging from cargo ships to luxury yachts have been recorded traveling at more than three times the speed limit. “Speedboats can and do kill North Atlantic right whales,” said Oceana state campaign director Gib Brogan. “Enforcing speed limits is the most effective way to protect whales from this known threat.
“Slow zones are the equivalent of school slow zones to protect children. They act as necessary speed limits to protect against boat strikes in areas where North Atlantic right whales live.”
The group analyzed boat speeds in slow-speed zones along the U.S. East Coast from November 2020 to July 2022 and found that 84% of boats traveled through slow-speed zones. Cargo ships were the biggest offenders, accounting for up to half of the speeding vessels.
The whale’s only known calving grounds are off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Boat collisions can cause death or injury due to blunt force trauma or propeller shearing. Entanglement in fishing gear is also a major cause of death.
Since 2017, 18 North Atlantic right whale ship collisions have been recorded in the United States and Canada, resulting in 12 fatalities, but the actual number is believed to be much higher. Studies have shown that limiting boat speed to 10 knots reduces the risk of death by 80% to 90%.
“Stronger protection measures and further enforcement are needed to give these endangered whales the protection they need,” Brogan said. “If U.S. and Canadian leaders step up protections for North Atlantic right whales from known threats, scientists say this species could recover from possible extinction. ”