Environmental Groups Demand Rules To Protect The North Atlantic Right Whale From Ship Collisions

A coalition of environmental groups has been calling on the country’s federal government to have in place emergency rules to safeguard a fast-vanishing species of whale from collisions with large vessels.

The groups had filed the petition with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 28 September in an attempt to safeguard the North Atlantic right whale. The whale can weigh over the weight of five school buses together, numbers now lower than 340, and has been in a steep decline in recent years.

North Atlantic Right Whale
Representation Image

Ship collisions is one of the most severe threats to the survival of the whale, per the NOAA. The groups cite a rule that has been proposed from the agency aimed at preventing such vessel strikes by making more vessels actively slow down for whales. The NOAA is yet to release a finalized updated speed rule even after proposing new rules over a year back, the environmental groups mentioned.

The groups argue that it is critical to have new rules before the next calving season, during which the whales migrate over hundreds of miles from the waters off Canada and New England to calving grounds off Georgia and Florida.

Even a ship strike will bring the whales even closer to extinction, but the speed limits can prevent that. Federal officials cannot sit back and do absolutely nothing while the right whales are in severe danger, explained Kristen Monsell, the oceans legal director associated with the Center for Biological Diversity, a key group that has filed the petition.

The NOAA anticipates declaring final actions on the proposed rule in 2023, mentioned Katie Wagner, a spokesperson associated with the agency. That might land during the calving season and also include a later date for regulations to come into effect. Besides, the agency is also aware of the petition but doesn’t comment on matters that are related to litigation, per Wagner. The agency has been considering expanding its “slow zones” off the East Coast and needing more vessels to comply with the rules.

The NOAA reportedly denied a request from the environmentalists in 2022 to implement new rules. The agency further said via public documents at the time that it was primarily focused on the reduction measures for long-term and substantive vessel strike risk reduction. The NOAA received over 90,000 comments on the rule and is also using them for informing the final action, Wagner stated.

Once, these right whales were abundant off the East Coast but were eventually decimated in the commercial whaling era. They’ve been safeguarded under the Endangered Species Act for many decades. Besides, the whales are vulnerable to more accidental entanglement, especially in commercial fishing gear and also proposed newer restrictions to prevent entanglements have been subject to lengthy court battles between fishermen and the federal government.

References: AP News, The Charlotte Observer, Spectrum News

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