NOAA finalizes speed restrictions to protect North Atlantic right whales
73 Fed. Reg. 60173 / 73 FR 60173-60191 / Friday, October 10, 2008 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; 50 CFR Part 224; Docket No. 040506143–7024–03; RIN 0648–AS36; Endangered Fish and Wildlife; Final Rule To Implement Speed Restrictions to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions With North Atlantic Right Whales.)
SUMMARY: NMFS establishes regulations to implement speed restrictions of no more than 10 knots applying to all vessels 65 ft (19.8 m) or greater in overall length in certain locations and at certain times of the year along the east coast of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard. The purpose of the regulations is to reduce the likelihood of deaths and serious injuries to endangered North Atlantic right whales that result from collisions with ships.
DATES: This final rule is effective December 9, 2008 through December 9, 2013.
With the exception of North Pacific right whales, North Atlantic right whales are the world’s most critically endangered large whale species and one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Population models suggest that their abundance may have increased at about 2 percent per year during the 1980s, but that it declined at about the same rate in the 1990s. Although the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act make it illegal to strike a right whale with a ship, NOAA concluded that "there is a role for rigorous and effective measures to minimize the risk of illegal takings of right whales resulting from ship collisions and to promote efforts to conserve and recover the population." A study of ship strikes concluded that "most deaths occurred when a vessel was traveling at speeds of 14 knots or greater and that, as speeds declined below 14 knots, whales apparently had a greater opportunity to avoid oncoming vessels." Ship safety and steering abilities were still maintained at 10 knots. Photo from NOAA.
KEITHINKING: NOAA's concern about maritime strikes is justified by data, including the many sightings along the coastline listed in the Northeast U.S. Right Whale Sighting Advisory System.