Phoenix and calf. Sea to Shore Alliance photo.
Five years ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) enacted a seasonal ship strike rule to protect migrating, endangered North Atlantic right whales (NARW). This rule requires that vessels 65 feet (19.8m) or longer limit themselves to a maximum speed of 10 mph (16 kph) in designated zones (Seasonal Management Areas) during specified periods of time. For the Northeast, that meant January 1 – March 15 in Cape Cod Bay, March 1 – April 30 off Race Pt in Provincetown and April 1 – July 31 in the Great South Channel. The time frames for the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast reflect the months that NARWs are expected to be in those regions. This rule, proven to be effective so far, was important for the protection of this critically endangered species, the population of which is estimated at approximately 500 animals.
However, the rule had an end date attached to it, December 9, 2013. A year ago, the NBWM hosted colleagues from Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, (Provincetown) Center for Coastal Studies, Humane Society of the U.S., Rhode Island Audubon and other members of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium to announce a campaign to convince NOAA to drop the end date (also known as a sunset clause) from this rule. We debuted the campaign video ‘Act Right Now Save a Species’, held a panel discussion, and made a petition available for signature by any citizen. In the past year, over 145,000 comments were sent to NOAA and 75,000+ people signed the petition.
Today NOAA announced that it has dropped the sunset clause from the Ship Strike Rule, thus making the rule permanent. Collisions between whales and vessels are typically fatal. Two of the skeletons that hang in our Museum, the North Atlantic right whale with fetus, and the blue whale were killed by vessel strikes. By forcing vessels to slow down during those times when NARWs are expected to be in a given area, both whales and mariners have greater opportunity to steer clear of each other. This is a win-win situation and has proven to be much less of a burden on vessel operators than previously estimated.
The issue of entanglement has yet to be solved. But on a rainy day, NOAA’s decision is indeed a bright beam of excellent news for an endangered species and for the dozens of people who dedicate themselves to studying and protecting the North Atlantic right whale.
Posted in News, Press Release, Science, Whales
Tagged Act Right Now, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Humane Society of the United States, New England Aquarium, NOAA, North Atlantic Right Whale, North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, Ship Strike Rule, sunset clause, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
We have been working with colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation and Audubon Society of Rhode Island to raise awareness about the survival issues facing the North Atlantic right whale. Over the past year, the most timely issue has been the ‘Ship Strike Rule’ that was enacted in 2008 and given an end date of December 9, 2013. It would be up to supporters of this rule to petition the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to eliminate, or at minimum, push the sunset date back as more data was gathered regarding the effectiveness of this seasonal slow-down for ships longer than 65 feet.
We held a press event on December 9, 2012 to announce the Act Right Now campaign to continue the Ship Strike Rule in perpetuity. In that time, a campaign video was released, right whale curriculum was finalized and distributed to teachers in several states, a fun run was held in Plymouth, hundreds of letters were sent to NOAA stating support for the rule, and over 75,000 people signed the petition that was sent to NOAA headquarters.
As a means of highlighting the progress made in the past year and to bring further attention to this highly endangered species, the Whaling Museum will host a celebratory event on Sunday, December 1, beginning at noon. Headlining this event is renowned National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry. Brian was born and raised in Massachusetts and his work is known around the world. He is the recent winner of the Underwater Category of the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition! One of his photographs, of a Southern right whale, is featured prominently in our From Pursuit to Preservation exhibit. We are very happy to host him and this great event in three weeks.
The schedule for the event is on the post card above. Please note that the tickets are being sold via our colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. But, if you do have questions, you can call NBWM Science Director, Robert Rocha, (508) 717-6849.
As the sun sets on another week, we’d like to share some nicely timed humpback whale photos off the coast of Monterey Bay, California. This article about Katie Dunbar’s photos shows four very colorful pictures. The first photo is the most impressive.
Enjoy the weekend.
Every school group that comes in for a science program has heard, and will continue to hear, me correct one of the flaws in the animated film Finding Nemo. To summarize, two of the fish characters, Dory and Marlin, escaped from the mouth of a blue whale by going down the whale’s throat and out through the blowholes. This is a physical impossibility. I actually yelled at the TV screen when I saw this. I knew that I would have to talk about this scene with each and every student who came in for a program.
This scientific inaccuracy, along with a few others in the film, has struck a chord with a writer who is a half a world away, in India. This article in Gizmodo gives the same explanation that our young visitors hear. Facts are facts, you can only spin them so many ways. It’s a fun read and corrects the original problem, and the anticipated follow up question (‘What comes out of the blowholes if it isn’t water?). The bulleted facts at the bottom of the article are interesting and educational.