The Biden administration has refused an emergency petition to safeguard the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from being killed by vessels in calving grounds off the southeast coast of the US.
North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most extraordinary at-risk marine mammals. They give birth only every three to 10 years. Now, the population is down to only 70 reproductive females.
In November 2022, well-known conservation groups, including the WDC, filed a petition for emergency rulemaking that requested a rule that mirrors a National Marine Fisheries Service proposal to have set speed limits for vessels that measure 35 feet in length and greater and expand areas where speed limits are applicable. The regulation could prevent incidents like the boat collision that took place in 2021 and took the life of a right whale calf off Florida and fatally injured its mother.
The agency has yet to finalize the proposal, with officials mentioning that they do not have sufficient time or resources to implement emergency regulations and have been working with vessel operators to get voluntary slow-downs. Earlier voluntary efforts, however, have not proved to be effective.
Right whales birth and nurse calves in such warm and shallow waters. Scientists are not aware of other calving grounds for these. But the region has gradually transformed into a killing zone.
The whales start reproducing around the middle of November, and the season typically lasts till the middle of April. Pregnant females and mothers with nursing calves are at risk of massive vessel strikes as they spend a significant amount of time close to the water’s surface. The agency’s decision not to take urgent action puts the species’ future at severe risk.
Ship strikes are two significant threats to North Atlantic right whales, with entanglements associated with commercial fishing gear. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s rule mandates vessels that measure about 65 feet in length and greater to slow to 10 knots or less to protect Right whales in specific areas at specific times. The agency has also noted that a rule expansion is crucial to preventing whale extinction.
Experts have estimated that 340 North Atlantic right whales remain.
References: Truthout, US Whales