The excessive speed of boats is causing endangered whales to be at a higher risk of extinction.
A recent report has revealed that the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are facing increased danger due to ships disregarding “slow zones” designated for their protection.
There are only approximately 340 individuals of this species left. One of the main reasons for injuries and deaths among these whales is collisions with boats. This is due to their tendency to swim near the surface and their dark color, which makes them hard to see.
In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) implemented a regulation in the United States requiring all vessels measuring 65 feet or longer to limit their speed to 10 knots or less in designated seasonal management areas along the east coast. This measure aims to safeguard whales in the area.
According to a report from Oceana, various types of ships, including cargo vessels and luxury yachts, have been observed exceeding the speed limit by over three times. Oceana’s campaign director, Gib Brogan, stated that these speeding boats pose a serious threat to North Atlantic right whales and emphasized the importance of enforcing speed zones to protect these animals.
Slow zones are similar to school slow zones in order to safeguard children – they serve as necessary speed limits to provide protection against boat collisions in areas where North Atlantic right whales are present.
A team examined the velocities of boats between November 2020 and July 2022 in restricted areas along the eastern coast of the United States. They discovered that 84% of boats exceeded the designated speed limit. Cargo ships were the most frequent violators, accounting for as much as half of all speeding vessels.
The only confirmed areas where whales give birth are located in the ocean near Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Collisions with boats can result in death or harm from physical impact or cuts from propellers, while getting caught in fishing gear is another primary cause of death.
In the years 2017 and onward, there have been 18 documented incidents of boats striking North Atlantic right whales in both the United States and Canada. Out of those incidents, 12 resulted in the death of the whales, though it is believed that the actual number of deaths is likely greater. Research has shown that implementing a speed limit of 10 knots can decrease the likelihood of death by 80% to 90%.
Brogan stated that there is a need for improved measures and stricter enforcement to ensure the safety of these highly endangered whales. According to scientists, increasing protections against known dangers by US and Canadian leaders can lead to the recovery of the North Atlantic right whale species from the threat of extinction.