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December 6, 2013

Obama Administration Praised for Slowing Down Ships, Protecting Endangered Whales from Deadly Strikes

  • Females and young right whales are the most likely to be killed in ship collisions. Slower speeds allow more time for ships to see right whales and for the whales to move out of the way. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/NOAA

The Obama administration has announced that it is permanently requiring certain ships to slow down in designated areas to protect critically endangered right whales. The regulatory move makes permanent the reduced speed limits that have been in place during a five-year trial period, and comes in response to a legal petition submitted by animal protection and wildlife conservation groups, and drew praise from The Humane Society of the United States.

Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS said, “This is a huge victory for these endangered whales. Since most of the collision-related deaths of right whales have involved females, the reduction in these deaths is a major step forward for this species that is struggling to recover.”

The federal government has identified collisions with large vessels and entanglement in commercial fishing gear as the greatest threats to the species’ recovery. The regulations are administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service and apply to vessels 65 feet or more in length that are in seasonal high-use areas. A recent agency review of the regulations found that the regulations should be extended and amended to better protect highly endangered right whales.

In June 2012, The HSUS, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation formally petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the ship speed regulations, as part of the groups’ ongoing legal efforts to protect this vulnerable species from a variety of threats.

Passed in 2008, the five-year ship speed regulations were set to expire on Dec. 9, 2013. The new regulations do not include a “sunset” provision that would require the regulations to automatically expire at a specific future date.  By ensuring that these speed limits remain in place, the administration has extended protections that have proven effective in reducing deaths.

Prior to the speed rules, deaths of right whales, including several pregnant females in 2004, were regularly documented along the east coast of the U.S. However, since the regulations were put in place, there have been no deaths within 40 miles of any of the seasonal speed restricted zones. Slower speeds allow more time for ships to see right whales in their path and for the whales to move out of the way.

Facts:

  • Fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remain in a population that once numbered in the thousands until the advent of whaling. The species is now critically endangered.
  • Right whales migrate seasonally between their only known calving area off the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and their feeding areas off New England and Canada.
  • Federal reports document that females and young right whales are the most likely to be killed in ship collisions.
  • Since 2004, at least 18 right whales have been struck by vessels, two-thirds of them resulting in fatalities. 
  • In June 2012, The Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation formally petitioned the government to extend the rule and its protections beyond the expiration date of December 9, 2013.

 

Media Contact: Naseem Amini, 301-548-7793, namini@humanesociety.org

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