Oceana filed an emergency rulemaking petition earlier this week demanding that immediate action be taken to save critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. This includes ensuring the protection of pregnant females, lactating mothers, and calves during the current calving season which began in mid-November and runs through mid-April.
The petition, which was addressed to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Assistant Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service Janet Coit, explains that North Atlantic right whales are especially vulnerable to being hit by boats during the calving season since the mothers and nursing calves spend more time swimming at the water’s surface, increasing the possibility of boat strikes.
As previously reported by WAN, earlier this year, the National Marine Fisheries Service advocated for new vessel speed regulations to address the ongoing threats affecting North Atlantic right whales. Nearly 20,000 Oceana members and supporters commented in support of the proposed regulations that are currently under review. While final changes to existing rules are not expected until well into 2023, the calving season is currently underway off the southeast coast of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida.
“We are sounding the alarm for our government to step in and establish immediate protections for North Atlantic right whales during the calving season. As the nation’s steward of our oceans, it is Secretary Raimondo’s responsibility to take action to protect these critically endangered whales,” Oceana campaign director Gib Brogan said in a statement. “Right whale mothers are currently heading south to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida to calve with grossly inadequate protection. These whales are faced with a number of life-threatening perils along their journey; boat collisions and entanglement in fishing gear remain the top two causes of death for the species.”
“While broader and permanent safeguards are desperately needed, the government must take immediate action now to protect these mothers and their newly born calves today.” explained Brogan.
Oceana is calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to use its authority and responsibility under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act to implement the following measures immediately until the updated final rule is in place:
Modify the Seasonal Speed Zones (SSZ) for the Atlantic, Great South Channel, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the Southeast region as defined in the Proposed Amendments;
Implement the mandatory Dynamic Speed Zone (DSZ) “framework” as defined in the Proposed Amendments, while enhancing and clarifying the DSZ trigger to include the presence of a mother-calf pair, instead of limiting the trigger to “three or more whales in close proximity”;
Expand the size class of boats currently subject to speed restrictions to include most vessels greater than or equal to 35ft in length.