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
Sixth months ago, on Saturday, December 9, the Whaling Museum hosted a press conference to announce the campaign to make the 2008 NOAA ‘Ship Strike Rule’ permanent. This rule was put in place for five years to test its effectiveness in protecting North Atlantic right whales in their habitat along the east coast of the United States. The rule dictates that during seasons in which NARWs are known to be in a given area at a certain time of the year ((e.g. in Cape Cod Bay from January 1 – May 15) ships greater than 65 feet must slow to 10 knots. The time periods for these slower speeds vary based on where the whales are expected to be during the year. This rule has proven to be very effective. No whales have been reported as having been struck in these Seasonal Management Areas since the rule went into effect. The cost to mariners is less than anticipated. The rule is having the desired effect.
Two days ago, on Wednesday, June 5, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened a 60-day comment period for the proposal to make Speed Restrictions to Protect North Atlantic Right Whales (50 CFR 224.10), colloquially known as the Ship Strike Rule, permanent. The New Bedford Whaling Museum, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Rhode Island Audubon Society, Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, select faculty from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Right Whale team from the New England Aquarium and other members of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) all support making this rule permanent. It could certainly be made stronger by expanding the restriction to all vessels, not just those 65 feet or longer. But the simple elimination of the ‘sunset date’ of December 9, 2013 would be a testament to the effectiveness of this rule and a big step in expanding protections for a species whose population numbers somewhere around 500.
North Atlantic Right Whale female and calf. NOAA photo.
We invite you to learn more about the effectiveness of this rule by viewing the campaign video commissioned by WDC. This video features excellent footage of NARWs and the Museum’s right whale skeleton, Reyna – a whale killed by ship strike, and commentary from several members of the NARWC. Your comments to NOAA are welcome and encouraged.
North Atlantic right whale killed by ship strike. Photo by Monica Zani, New England Aquarium. Taken under NOAA/NMFS federal permit.
On December 9 of last year, less than two months ago, the Whaling Museum hosted a press conference to announce the launching of the Act Right Now – Save a Species campaign. This campaign seeks to remove the ‘sunset’ date of December 9, 2013 that was included as part of the rule that requires ships greater than 65 feet to slow down to 10 knots when they enter areas known to be inhabited by the North Atlantic right whale. This rule is seasonal, since the NARW migrates along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Based on the results of the first four years, this rule is proving to be an effective tool in cutting down on ship strikes in these areas.
It is critical that this rule be kept in place, if we are to minimize one of the human-induced causes of right whale mortality. Any population of animal that is as endangered as this one is (the population hovers around 500) needs our help for survival, especially if we know how to prevent these types of fatal interactions.
To that end, our colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation commissioned a video to tell this story and to urge NOAA to remove the expiration date from this rule. Several partners of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, including WM staff participated in this important effort. We encourage you to watch this compelling eight minute video, which has both excellent footage of right whales and gruesome images of ship strikes, and then sign the petition to extend the life of the 2008 Final Rule to Implement Speed Restrictions to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions with North Atlantic Right Whales.
The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium consists of members from dozens of agencies, non-profits, universities and whale related businesses. We proudly host their annual meeting each November.
The sighting of a North Atlantic right whale (NARW) in Cape Cod Bay, off the coast of Plymouth, MA is not unusual, except when the sighting happens between November and February. But, when the whale is a female that hadn’t been seen for nearly three years, and she is accompanied by a calf, then the sighting is cause for celebration. This whale, nicknamed Wart, had been severely entangled in netting for two (probably excruciating) years before the third disentanglement attempt by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies finally set her free in May of 2010. She hadn’t been seen since.
So, it was a very nice surprise when the adult was identified from North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog as ‘Wart’. This calf is her seventh, and her first since 2005. Typically, NARW females have a calving interval of 3-5 years. This eight year stretch between calves may say a great deal about the physical stress that entanglement puts on the body of a right whale, especially a female. There’s a brief story and photo on CBS Local Boston.
The only known calving grown for the NARW is off the coast of southern Georgia and northern Florida. So far in this calving season, including Wart and her calf, there have been 14 mother-calf pairs spotted.
For photographs of both mom and calf, you can visit the Face-ing Extinction: The North Atlantic Right Whale page on Facebook. These photos were taken by staff of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). We encourage you to ‘Like’ the page. One of the goals for this page when it was set up by WDC, NBWM and Audubon Society of RI was to have as many people Like the page as there are NARWs. Presently the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog, which is maintained by the New England Aquarium, lists 509 living whales. Now that we’ve reached that goal, it’s time to double it.
The headline sums it up really well. Our friends and colleagues from the New England Aquarium have taken, and shared via CBS News, this video of approximately five dozen endangered North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay. This represents nearly 13% of the estimated population of this species.