Did you know that 16 February 2019 was ‘World Whale Day’? A perfect opportunity to remind ship operators to comply with US and Canadian regulations and recommendations aimed at reducing collisions between North Atlantic right whales and ships.
‘World Whale Day’ held annually on the third Saturday in February, was founded in Maui, Hawaii, in 1980, to honour humpback whales, which swim off its coast. Today, the event serves a bigger purpose and reminds us of the need for continuous protection of the many large species of whale that are listed as “endangered” or “threatened”.
Protecting North Atlantic right whales in Canada and the US
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world’s most endangered species of large whale. It was hunted to the brink of extinction by commercial whalers by the early 1890s and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that only 450 right whales remain. The North Atlantic right whale is found almost exclusively along the East Coast of Canada and the US. Each autumn some right whales travel more than 1,500 km from their feeding grounds off Canada and New England to their calving areas in the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and north-eastern Florida. Unfortunately, its habitat and migration routes are located close to major ports and often overlap with shipping lanes, making the whales vulnerable to collisions with ships.
So - although the days of whaling are long gone - human interactions still represent the greatest danger to the North Atlantic Right whale. This has prompted both Canada and the US to implemented various measures to prevent ship strikes during times when North Atlantic right whales are likely to be present.
In 2019, Transport Canada implements the following measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:
For details, including visual maps of the speed reduction zones, please visit Transport Canada’s website “Protecting North Atlantic right whales from collisions with ships in the Gulf of St. Lawrence”.
Every year, NOAA implements the following measures along the US East Coast:
For details, including visual maps of the speed reduction zones, please visit NOAA’s website “Reducing Ship Strikes to North Atlantic Right Whales“.
It is a ship operator’s responsibility to ensure that ships’ crews are familiar with the risk of ship collisions with the endangered North Atlantic right whale. We recommend Members and clients with ships trading along the US East Coast and in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence to:
Violations of the mandatory North Atlantic right whale speed restrictions can lead to civil administrative penalties being issued against the ship.
Active speed reduction zones as of 21 February 2019
There are currently no active speed reduction zones in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Eight of the ten fixed mandatory speed restriction zones (SMAs) along the US East Coast are active, the only exceptions being the Northeast SMAs “Off Race Point” and “Great South Channel”.
In addition, NOAA has activated a voluntary speed reduction zone (DMA) 26 nautical miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, to protect an aggregation of 19 right whales that were sighted in this area on 17 February 2019. The DMA is currently active through 5 March 2019 and mariners are requested to route around this area or transit through it at 10 knots or less.