Nearly 80% Of Ships Were Speeding In Mandatory Slow Zones Leading Up To Boat Strike Critically Injuring A North Atlantic Right Whale Calf

Left image credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, taken under NOAA permit #26919. Right image credit: Forever Hooked Charters of South Carolina.

An Oceana analysis uncovered that nearly 80%of ships violated mandatory speed zones in the weeks leading up to the discovery of a maimed North Atlantic right whale calf off the coast of South Carolina.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)confirmed that the calf was spotted on January 6, 2024, with life-threatening injuries consistent with a boat strike. Oceana’s analysis shows that in the weeks prior to the boat strike, the majority of boats in the area were speeding through mandatory slow zones designed to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Oceana says President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo failed to do their jobs to protect North Atlantic right whales, and demands they immediately issue the updated vessel speed rule and fully enforce speed limits.

Using Ship Speed Watch, an innovative tool launched by Oceana to monitor ship speeds in slow zones in the U.S. that were established to protect North Atlantic right whales, Oceana documented that during the period between December 9, 2023, (the last confirmed sighting of the healthy, uninjured mom and calf pair) and January 3, 2024:

  • 79% of boats 65 feet and greater (454 of 575) exceeded the speed limit in the mandatory slow zones in the U.S. southeast.

  • One boat was found traveling as fast as 35.8 knots,more than 3.5 times the speed limit.

“Speeding boats and whales are a deadly mix  it’s no different than allowing an 18-wheeler to plow through a school zone,” said Oceana Campaign Director Gib Brogan. “We are outraged that yet again, a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale calf is on the brink of death due to a preventable boat strike. Just weeks ago, we were celebrating this calf’s birth, and now we’re anticipating its untimely death. Further delays in issuing the vessel speed rule will predictably invite more devastating events like this one and that is simply unacceptable.”

“With calving rates already so low, each calf is vital to the survival of this species. President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo have delayed increased protections for right whales and are failing to enforce the existing slow zones we call on them to immediately enforce speed limits and implement the proposed vessel speed rule,” continued Brogan. “North Atlantic right whales weave through thousands of boats that travel in and out of ports up and down the eastern seaboard – directly in their migratory zone. Every day this rule is delayed pushes these whales closer to the brink of extinction. We need urgent action now from the Biden administration to protect North Atlantic right whales, not hopes and dreams about future solutions.”

In 2022, NOAA proposed new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threat of boat strikes affecting North Atlantic right whales. Final changes to the existing rules have still not been released.

There are only around 356 of these critically endangered whales left in the world, including only around 70breeding females. Multiple studies show that slowing large boats to 10 knots reduces a North Atlantic right whale’s risk of death by boat collision by 80% to 90%.

In the U.S. southeast, mandatory slow zones are in place from November through April to protect North Atlantic right whale mothers as they travel to the warmer waters to calve. These slow zones require boats 65 feet and greater to travel at speeds of 10 knots or less. Unfortunately, they are frequently ignored, putting mothers and their new calves at-risk.

Please tell your federal government officials to take immediate action to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction by signing Oceana’s petition, HERE!

NOAA is asking anyone with information regarding the calf’s injuries and additional sightings to contact 877-WHALE-HELP (877-942-5343). The vessel that struck the animal could have damage.

Please report any sightings of right whales that are injured or entangled to NOAA. Please take photos or videos from the legally required 500-yard distance and note the GPS coordinates to share with biologists.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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