From cruise ships to fishing boats and yachts to merchant ships – all have collided with whales.
North Atlantic right whales are slow; they also spend a lot of time at the surface of the ocean and near the coast. All of these traits make them highly vulnerable to human activities, especially being struck by ships.
In fact studies have shown that ship strikes are the leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales. This vulnerability has marked them as one of the most endangered whales in the world.
Decimated by whaling at the turn of the last century, the North Atlantic right whale received protection from hunting in 1935 and is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and designated as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
However, even with these important listings there was nothing in place to help protect these magnificent animals from their number one threat, accidental ship strikes.
That all changed in 2008 when the Ship Strike Rule was implemented requiring that all ships 65 feet in length or larger reduce their speed to 10 knots while in areas of heightened right whale activity, in an attempt to avoid any collisions with the slow-moving, critically endangered whales.
By traveling at only 10 knots through areas populated by North Atlantic right whales, ships are able to more carefully navigate through the channels to avoid whales. Even if a ship does strike a whale, by simply easing up on the gas, mariners can reduce the risk of a lethal ship strike by 80%.
The only hiccup in this important piece of whale legislation was that it came with a “sunset clause”, which would allow the rule to expire if not removed by December 9th, 2013.
On June 6 of this past year the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) put out a request for comments on whether or not the sunset clause should be removed from the Ship Strike Rule.
In response to their request NMFS received a total of 145,879 comments, of which 145,840 expressed support for the rule and/or elimination of the sunset provision.
A whopping 99% of those who submitted comments supported the Rule and of the total submitted some 20+% of those were from IFAW supporters!
You may not hear this often, but as you can see from the above numbers, and from the final ruling, your support has literally saved whales.
That’s the good news, however if you read the fine print, our work is not yet done.
Along with the rule’s renewal and the removal of the sunset clause, there was mention of future consideration to amend the speed restrictions in ports from New York to Jacksonville, Florida.
These ports are currently subject to 10 knot speed limits from November to April when right whales migrate between their northern feeding grounds and southern calving grounds. Removal of restrictions in these areas would mean a return to increased rates of ship collisions for the vulnerable mother-calf pairs traveling through these waters.
The loss of even one female would have a severe impact on the overall population.
IFAW has worked tirelessly alongside the US Government to protect the North Atlantic right whale, working closely with Congressman Keating of Massachusetts in the lead up to renewal to keep the pressure on.
Aided by you, our supporters, we will continue to do so.
Thank you from all of us here at IFAW for your tremendous effort on behalf of the North Atlantic right whale!
Together we’ve prevented the sun from setting permanently on this species.