US lowers ship speeds along East Coast to reduce collisions with endangered right whales
WASHINGTON - To save a slow-moving species of whale that lives along the Atlantic coast, the government is telling ships to slow down.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday issued a 11.5-mile-per-hour speed limit for ships 65 feet or longer that travel within 23 miles of major mid-Atlantic ports, and in areas where the North Atlantic right whale breeds, feeds and migrates. The regulation will go into effect in December.
Government marine scientists had initially proposed a 34-mile-wide coastal speed zone around the ports. That recommendation was scaled back after the White House questioned the science linking ship speed to whale deaths.
The North Atlantic right whale has been protected as an endangered species since 1970. Despite warning systems and aerial surveys to locate whales in shipping lanes, only 300-400 whales remain in the wild. The major remaining threat to the species is ship strikes, which from 1997 to 2001 killed about one to two right whales per year, according to federal officials.
The speed limit will be the first put in place to protect a species along the Atlantic coast. A federal analysis issued earlier this year said that the limit could cost the shipping industry millions of dollars in lost revenue. It would affect most commercial ships, including ferries, cruise liners and even whale-watching vessels.
SHIP STRIKE REDUCTION
Collision with vessels is the leading human-caused source of mortality for the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Encouraging responsible boating practices and understanding the distribution of right whales are two key components to reducing the risk of ship strike. The Northeast Regional Office conducts mariner outreach, collects information on ship strike events, participates in NOAA’s national Ship Strike Reduction Strategy, and funds and coordinates aerial surveys and research programs to improve our understanding of vessel collision events and develop effective programs to further reduce the threat of ship strike to whales.
NOAA Fisheries Service Northeast Ship Strike Reduction Program