Ships Moving Fast in U.S Waters Despite Limits to Protect Right Whales, Report Says

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Most ships along the east coast of the U.S are sailing above speed limits imposed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, as per a report released Wednesday by an ocean advocacy team.

Oceana tracked ships between 2017 and 2020 along the United States east coast and discovered 90% of the boats violated mandatory speed limits. And in areas where speed limits were voluntary, non-compliance was close to 85%, the team said in its report.

“Vessels are speeding, North Atlantic right whales are dying, and there’s not enough accountability,” Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana, said in a news release. “

Oceana’s analysis shows that speeding vessels are rampant throughout North Atlantic right whales’ migration route, all along the east coast, and in both mandatory and voluntary speed zones.”

Webber is calling for greater enforcement of speed limits by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in U.S waters.

“Until speed-zone rules are mandatory and violators held accountable, North Atlantic right whales will continue to die on NOAA’s watch.”

Oceana says collisions with vessels are a leading cause of injury and death for right whales. Another cause is entanglement in fishing gear. It is estimated there are less than 400 North Atlantic right whales in existence.

Kim Elmslie, campaign director for the Canadian wing of Oceana, says compliance with mandatory speed limits in Canadian waters is much higher than in United States waters. She credits that high compliance to several factors, including stronger enforcement in Canada.

Ships in the Guld of St. Lawrence, she adds, are restricted to confined shipping lanes whereas those on the U.S east coast are travelling in several directions to serve a massive number of ports.

“(Transport Canada) tracked 2,463 vessels since the (speed limits) went into place at the end of April and of those, they’ve only found 147 that have been above the limit in mandatory areas,” Elmslie said in an interview Wednesday. “They do seem to be having good compliance and they have a tremendous amount of surveillance that is going on in those areas.”

However, Elmslie, says to protect the endangered whales Transport Canada should replace voluntary speed limits in places such as the Cabot Strait with compulsory limits.

In the last 4 years, the Canadian government has enforced a number of measures to protect the whales, including compulsory speed limits that apply to much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but not the Cabot Strait, as well as periodic fisheries closures.

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